Oklahoma City Council members hired a private law firm Tuesday to lead upcoming contract negotiations with the city’s police and firefighter unions.
The firm, McAfee and Taft, was hired in part because negotiations with the unions have gone poorly in recent years. "It’s just broken,” Ward 4 Councilman Pete White said of recent negotiations with the public safety unions. Two of the firm’s labor attorneys will be paid $225 an hour each to lead negotiations with the unions for the next fiscal year, according to a contract council members unanimously approved Tuesday. City officials hope the arrangement helps improve a damaged relationship with the public safety unions. "It’s just to put a new face on it,” White said. "The people that do the hardest jobs we have in this city are the police department and fire. For the relationship to be this acrimonious ... is not acceptable.” City attorneys handled past negotiations and will assist with the upcoming negotiations. The negotiations figure to be tense because the city will likely ask for concessions from its public safety unions in order to meet next year’s budget, which will be much smaller than this year’s. "We’ve got a huge budget issue,” City Manager Jim Couch said. Council members and the unions’ presidents expressed concern about the cost of private attorneys at a time when the city is making across the board budget cuts.
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Where last year’s negotiations stand The firefighter union contract dispute went to arbitration last year and arbitrators ruled the firefighters should get the 1 percent raise they requested. The city is fighting that ruling and could call an election this year to let voters decide whether the firefighters should get raises. The city recently reached an agreement with the police union on a work contract that will go before council members next week. Officials wouldn’t discuss specifics, but said the agreement includes no police raises. JOHN ESTUS, STAFF WRITER