Lawrence firefighters aren't yet sounding a full alarm that they are underpaid compared to their counterparts in area cities, but they are starting to become concerned that may be the case.
The local firefighters union has exercised a clause in its current contract that requires Lawrence City Hall to hold a new set of negotiations on firefighter wages for 2015.
"The city has a stated policy that it wants wages to remain competitive with other departments in the area," said Ryan Hornberger, president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 1596. "It is an important issue because the departments that don't stay competitive have some issues recruiting."
Hornberger said the union hasn't yet conducted a study comparing Lawrence wages to those in the Kansas City metro area and other departments in the region. He said the need for such a study was one of the reasons the union decided to exercise its right to reopen negotiations.
The union currently is in the third year of a four-year contract. The upcoming negotiations will be for wages in 2015, the final year of the contract. As currently approved, the contract calls for a 1 percent general wage adjustment for members of the union. That's less than the 1.5 percent general wage adjustments union members received in 2013 and 2014, Hornberger said.
Diane Stoddard, an assistant city manager who is part of the city's negotiating team, said she hopes to conclude the negotiations by July. The pay issue will be important as city commissioners craft a 2015 budget, which must be completed by August.
Stoddard said that the 1 percent general wage adjustment currently in the contract would apply to all members of the union, but that may not be the only raise that those individuals receive. Individuals also could be eligible for a 2.5 percent or 5 percent wage adjustment based on the results of their employee evaluations. Some members, however, are not eligible for those merit increases because they have topped out on the city salary scale, Stoddard said.
Each 1 percent general wage adjustment for the fire union adds about $90,000 to the city's budget, Stoddard estimated.
The City Commission has appointed Commissioner Bob Schumm to serve as its representative on the city's negotiating team. Ultimately, the City Commission will be responsible for approving any changes in the contract.
The union has a membership of 105, Hornberger said. It negotiates wage and other workplace issues for all members of Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical that have a rank of lieutenant and below.
The Lawrence Police Officers Association also is in the third year of a four-year contract. The members of that association also are scheduled to receive a 1 percent general wage adjustment in 2015. Stoddard said the Police Officers Association has notified the city that it will not seek to renegotiate the final year of its contract.