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Oklahoma City council receives new fire union offer

BY JOHN ESTUS AND BRYAN DEAN Published: February 28, 2010
Oklahoma City officials quietly rejected last week a firefighter union offer to forgo raises this fiscal year, city and union officials confirmed.

For about a year, the city has been asking firefighters to join all other city employees in not taking raises in anticipation of widespread budget cuts.

The fire union’s president said he’s perplexed.

"We give them what they want, and now they don’t want it,” Phil Sipe, president of International Association of Firefighters Local 157, said Wednesday. "We’re trying to improve our relationship with the city, but when that happens, it makes it difficult for everybody.”

Sipe said Friday that the union has since made the city a second, slightly different offer that doesn’t include raises. Council members could consider it Tuesday.

City officials said their decision to reject the first offer is more complicated than it may seem, but most declined to discuss specifics.

Even if the city had accepted that offer, the union’s membership has yet to vote to forgo raises. Sipe said some firefighters are "hard-liners” who insist they should get the raise arbitrators granted them last year, but others are willing to accept no raise and move forward.

Firefighters’ offer
Sipe sent a settlement agreement offer to the city Feb. 19 that offered to forgo firefighter raises if the city:

• Accepted the union’s last best offer on a work contract, minus the requested raises.

• Canceled an upcoming election on the pact.

• Agreed to ensure MAPS 3 use tax money is "committed to funding the needs of public safety until other long-term funding sources can be established.”

"We really thought by offering what they asked for and by merely asking them to uphold their position on the MAPS 3 use tax money that it would be more than enough to please them,” Sipe said.

City Manager Jim Couch only said that the ramifications are "significant” if the city accepted the union’s offer and made an open-ended commitment to apply MAPS 3 use tax money to public safety.

Council members recently agreed to use MAPS 3 use tax money to ensure no uniformed public safety workers were laid off this year but haven’t agreed to an open-ended commitment of use tax money to public safety.

Late Friday, Sipe said he had made the city another no-raises offer, this one without the clause that MAPS 3 use tax money be used to fund public safety.

"We’ll see if that makes a difference,” Sipe said Friday.

Ward 4 Councilman Pete White said Wednesday that in addition to an agreement from the union to forgo raises, the council wants an arbitration panel’s ruling last year that granted firefighters 1 percent raises thrown out.


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