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Oklahoma City hires private law firm for union talks

BY JOHN ESTUS Modified: February 26, 2010 at 9:43 am •  Published: February 24, 2010

/> "But I don’t think we can afford to do anything less than take our best shot at fixing the problem,” White said.

Phil Sipe, president of International Association of Firefighter Local 157, said he hopes the city’s private attorneys, Jim Webb and Tony Puckett, can help mend the wounds from past negotiations by creating a better negotiating environment.

Fraternal Order of Police President Gil Hensley isn’t so hopeful.

"I see that as kind of a waste of money,” Hensley said. "They have in-house attorneys. Our issues aren’t going to change no matter who sits across the table from us.”

Hensley also said there’s no motivation for an outside vendor to resolve the issues.

"The longer he stretches it out, the more money he makes,” Hensley said.

The city typically doesn’t hire private attorneys for work contract negotiations unless the matter goes to arbitration, Couch said.

"The fact of the matter is (the public safety unions) have some of the best labor attorneys in the state working on their behalf and we want to make sure that we have the same on our side of the table,” Couch said.

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.


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