City of Lawrence and firefighters union to begin mediated contract negotiations

photo by: City of Lawrence

City of Lawrence staff and members of the Lawrence firefighters union meet Wednesday, July 10, 2019, at City Hall.

Representatives for the City of Lawrence and the local firefighters union will soon begin mediated negotiations in an attempt to resolve disagreements regarding pay increases and other changes to the union’s contract.

The first meeting with a mediator from the United States Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service will be Thursday and is scheduled to last all day. Assistant City Manager Casey Toomay said the city and the union, Local 1596, have tentatively scheduled additional mediated meetings through Aug. 7.

“We look forward to having the assistance of a mediator and hope to reach agreement,” Toomay said.

The employment contract covers wages, benefits and working conditions for firefighters, fire engineers and fire lieutenants in the Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical Department, and it expires at the end of this year. The city and the union began meeting to discuss changes to the contract at end of April and have still not agreed on how much of a wage increase is needed to keep firefighter pay competitive, among other issues such as longevity pay, overtime pay and extra pay for certain duties.

Former City Manager Tom Markus, who retired at the end of June, will continue as a member of the city’s negotiating team. Toomay said Markus was receiving $60 per hour for his work and has an agreement to be reimbursed for “reasonable” travel expenses. She said Markus would not receive additional fringe benefits.

Markus has moved from Lawrence, and Toomay said that while he participated in the last meeting on July 10 via conference call, he would be attending the upcoming mediated meetings in person. She said Wednesday afternoon that the city did not have an estimate of Markus’ travel expenses at this time but would know more Thursday.

Thus far, the meetings have been open to the public and recorded on video, but Toomay said the city and union have not yet decided whether the mediated meetings would be open and that the mediator may have his own rules for conducting meetings. She said that issue would be the first item discussed at Thursday’s meeting.

The city and union could have potentially had additional meetings in July, but talks broke down after the parties could not agree on how contact with the media would be handled, as the Journal-World previously reported. The city wanted to extend a rule into the impasse, which began July 1, that prohibits either side from speaking to the media without notifying the other side in advance.

In a recent email to the Journal-World, union Vice President Seamus Albritton said that the union sent another request to the city to continue meeting until the mediated meetings began but that the city declined unless the union was willing to agree to the rule change.

If the mediated meetings don’t lead to an agreement by a certain date, then city leaders will make the final call regarding any outstanding issues. Specifically, if the city and the union are still at an impasse 10 days after their first session with the mediator, they will provide their final proposals to the City Commission for consideration.


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