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Fire union's head seeks return to bargaining

The head of Buffalo's fire union is calling on the city to return to the bargaining table in hopes of hammering out the first new contract for firefighters in more than seven years.

President Daniel Cunningham says the union has new ideas for saving money, and some new executive board members "who think a little bit differently."

At a news conference outside fire union headquarters on Delaware Avenue, Cunningham said he's hopeful a "fair and equitable contract" can be reached after two previous efforts in as many years fizzled when firefighters rejected city offers.

Some money-saving ideas the union will advance include the use of holiday and vacation time, as well as strategies for reducing sick time.

"We're willing to give concessions, and we're willing to accept something that the city can live with," Cunningham said.

There have been no formal negotiations since fall of 2008, he added, but he's hoping this will change soon.

Mayor Byron W. Brown said he's "very pleased" to hear the union's call for renewed talks.

"If they're saying that they're willing to open up negotiations, then we're certainly willing to do so," Brown said.

The state control board that oversees city finances must approve all contracts. Cunningham said, given the fact that staffers at the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority received raises this summer, he hopes the oversight panel would approve increases for firefighters.

"If they can get 3 percent raises for work they do, this union, the members who put their lives on the line . . . deserve a fair contract. And we're willing to bend," said Cunningham.

John Hayes, who was hired as a firefighter in 2002, said he has lost a substantial sum as a result of a wage freeze the control board imposed over a 38-month period.

The freeze was lifted in mid-2007, but Hayes said he remains at a pay tier lower than what he would have attained had the freeze never occurred.

"We're getting 80 percent of our pay, but we're doing 100 percent of our job," he said.

In other news, the union announced that about $60,000 was raised to help the families of two firefighters who died in an East Side blaze Aug. 24.

Most of the money was raised through donations made by attendees, sponsors and Web visitors of the National Buffalo Wing Festival. About $5,000 of the money was raised through the sale of T-shirts.

The money will assist the families of the late Charles W. "Chip" McCarthy Jr. and Jonathan Croom.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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