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Both sides discuss impasse in labor negotiations between Santa Maria and firefighters union

SM Firefighters Negotiations

SANTA MARIA, Calif. – One day after an impasse was declared between the City of Santa Maria and the Firefighters Union Local 2020, both sides are speaking out about the ongoing labor negotiations and what happens next.

"After about six months of having negotiations, we met about five or so times, the city again provided us with the last, best and final offer that wasn't very much different than what they provided in an early December," said Firefighters Union Local 2020 President Matt Chircop. "The membership unanimously rejected their last best and final offers twice and that's where we are today."

"The City of Santa Maria declared an impasse in its talks with the Firefighters Local 2020 and its contract negotiations," said Mark van de Kamp, Santa Maria Public Information Manager. "So far, we've been unable to come to an agreement. The next step is going to mediation, and the city has made three offers to the union. The union has rejected all three. We want to reach an agreement."

Both sides indicated with an impasse now declared, the next phase in trying to come to a labor agreement will soon begin.

"In an impasse, that means that the parties are unable to come to an agreement, so the next step, per contract, is to bring in a mediator, and the mediator will attempt to bring both sides to some sort of a compromise to some type of an agreement after reviewing, where both sides are and to, to look at the facts," said van de Kamp. "That should be starting very soon. The city manager and the city team will be meeting with the City Council. The City Council will be providing its guidance, as it's been doing, throughout the negotiations."

The union states its members, which totals about 60 firefighters, are working below the average of other firefighters, and is seeking similar compensation.

"We're 14% behind in market today, and that means we're 14% behind the average pay of market today," said Chricop. "We've presented about six proposals to try to get us to average pay over two and three years. The city has has actually not responded to each one of those offers. We're open to a number of ideas that address the problems that we're having."

Chircop added the current rate of pay for Santa Maria firefighters is causing problems with the service the department provides for the city.

"We're having recruitment and retention issues," said Chricop. "What that means is we're not having the number of applicants that we used to have for the positions that are open. We constantly have turnover and vacancies, which is causing extra workload on our existing members, and when a member leaves, it's restarting the clock on on firefighters and and their career path, through the fire department and up in the ranks, and unfortunately, when we lose a senior member, that's a real burden on the organization. That's a real burden on service delivery, and ultimately that translates into safety for the community."

Van de Kamp noted Santa Maria presented the firefighters with a deal which was close to one that was recently agreed upon with another local union.

"That was the SEIU Local 620, which represents 313 city employees who work full time and part time, and then also with the non-represented management and confidential employees, as well as the public safety managers," said van de Kamp. "The terms for those contracts are very similar. In year one, it's a 5% wage and compensation increase, and in year two it's another 5% increase. That will take effect next January. The city offered a similar contract to the Firefighters Local 2020, and it was rejected." 

Chircop reiterated the union is behind the average market rate and is simply seeking a deal that will put it in line with other fire departments.

"They flat out told us it's about priorities," said Chircop. "It's not about an inability to pay. Historically they have made those same comments, and it's also very disheartening when you when you're at the bargaining table and you identify where these funds are, we watch the city budgets, we watch the council meetings. We know where they move money to annually, and ultimately their position is always, we just don't have a shared interest in paying you what you deserve."

Van de Kamp indicated the next round of negotiations with the a mediator is expected to begin in the near future.

"We're going to continue in an effort to reach an agreement," said van de Kam "The City Council and staff continue efforts, and we're bringing in a mediator to work with all the parties concerned to to reach a good agreement. The City Council has stated on many occasions that it does value all of our employees, and we we really do appreciate all of the efforts that all of the men and women who serve the city in all ten departments provide a day in and day out."

Chircop added the union remains steadfast in getting what they feel is a fair contract and are ready for the next phase of what has turned into a long and difficult process.

"We're going to go through the impasse procedures," said Chircop. "We'll keep taking our message out to the voters, and ultimately, we're going to take our message to the ballot box. I want to thank the community for being out there in support of us. It's had a lot of great support from the community at City Council meetings and on the street corners. We look forward to further engaging with the community, so thank you to the community."

Article Topic Follows: Local Politics

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Dave Alley

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