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Council set to approve raises for firefighters

The Common Council is expected to approve a contract that would raise firefighters' salaries more than 30 percent through 2012 in exchange for union givebacks.

After meeting with fire officials and city negotiators Wednesday, all nine Council members said they're inclined to support the pact.

Lawmakers said they want to see additional details on how the plan will save the city nearly $8 million over the next five years, but they told reporters they expect the agreement to win Council approval at a special meeting at 10:30 a.m. Friday.

"It's a historic contract that will hopefully be a sign of things to come with other unions," said Delaware Council Member Michael J. LoCurto.

"We're confident that the numbers we've been shown are good numbers," said Majority Leader Dominic J. Bonifacio Jr.

"I'm ready to vote 'yes,' " said North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr.

Under the agreement, firefighters would receive an immediate $5,000 increase in their base salaries, plus a 3.4 percent increase. They would receive another 3.4 percent pay raise in July, followed by identical 3.4 percent increases in each of the next four years.

At the urging of city attorneys, Council members chose to deal with the issue in a rare closed meeting that lasted more than an hour.

Mayor Byron W. Brown's chief legal adviser justified the private session on the grounds that it's a proposed contract that also would include the settlement of 29 pending lawsuits filed by firefighters over the years. Despite an objection from a reporter, the Council voted to conduct its discussions behind closed doors.

During the closed meeting, some Council members raised questions about whether some of the concessions included in the proposed contract would compromise fire safety. For example, there would be a new scheduling policy that would see firefighters work 24 hours, followed by 24 hours off, then another 24 hours on the job. After that, firefighters would have five days off.

Fire Commissioner Michael S. Lombardo said other cities use the 24-hour scheduling, including Toronto, Binghamton and some localities in New England.

"We don't feel this impacts the safety of firefighters," Lombardo said after the closed meeting ended.

Even after the Council takes action on the contract, it still must be approved by the fire union and the city control board. If the oversight panel approves the pact at its Wednesday meeting, firefighters would vote on it by mid-February, union President Joseph E. Foley said.

Several firefighters have contacted The Buffalo News in recent days to raise concerns about some provisions in the pact. For example, there would be no retroactive raises for the five years in which firefighters have not received any increase.

Another potentially controversial concession would see firefighters give back 48 hours of paid vacation time and one personal paid day off.

Foley conceded Wednesday that some firefighters have concerns, but he expressed cautious optimism that once they study all provisions, they'll conclude that it's a good agreement and will ratify it.


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