South Bend Fire Dept. receives smaller raises than non-bargaining employees as negotiations stall
Salary negotiations have seemingly stalled between the city of South Bend and its fire department. The city and the fire department hadn’t come to an agreement by the Common Council meeting Monday evening.
“I’ve been involved in a lot of labor negotiations. This one has been very frustrating,” Councilman Troy Warner said, adding that most negotiations had been conducted over email.
It’s not usually up to the council to set bargaining employees’ salaries. But, since all 2022 salary ordinances have to be approved by Nov. 1, the council decided to pass a one-year salary ordinance that provides a 2.25 percent raise for fire department employees.
“It is my sincere goal and desire that the parties come together and come up with a deal that would be better for the firefighters,” Councilman Eli Wax said. “But in the meantime, the council is here doing cleanup for the other parties that didn’t get it done.”
Wax said if the council didn’t take “extraordinary action,” fire department salaries would revert to the 2021 ordinance.
Council members said the 2.25 percent increase would be an incentive for the fire department to continue negotiations, but the city’s non-bargaining employees are set to receive a 2.5 percent raise in 2022.
“I mean, it’s hard to say that’s not just a slap in the face,” Ryan Takacs, vice president of the local firefighters’ union, said during public comment.
Takacs said though he didn’t want to speak against a raise, the increase won’t be enough to keep the South Bend Fire Department competitive.
“We’re not asking for the world,” Takacs said. “We’re trying to remain on the same equal and level footing as our other public safety entity in the city, and with what’s currently proposed, we’re going to be well over five grand behind them.”
Takacs added that the SBFD is one of the busiest departments per capita in the state and recently received a Class 1 rating from the Insurance Services Office, putting it in the top 1 percent of fire departments nationwide.
If negotiations continue and a new agreement is reached, the council can amend the fire department’s current salary ordinance at a future meeting.
Councilwoman Sharon McBride said the 2.25 percent increase is necessary to encourage those negotiations.
“Not saying that this would be the case, but if we say the 2.5 percent increase like all other employees –– that may not give one party or the other an incentive to want to negotiate,” she said. “They’ll say that that’s what the rest of the employees have and maybe that’s sufficient.”
But Councilwoman Lori Hamman voiced reservations.
“We have two parties involved here,” she said. “We are incentivizing one to come back to the table and cooperate. I don’t see an incentive for the other to do so.”
The council ultimately passed the fire department’s 2022 salary ordinance unanimously.
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