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With no progress in contract talks, Santa Maria firefighters ramping up its public messaging

Santa Maria firefighters union sign
A Santa Maria firefighters union sign is displayed near the intersection of Broadway and Main Street on May 7, 2024. (Dave Alley/KEYT)

SANTA MARIA, Calif. - As contract talks with the City of Santa Maria continue to drag on, Santa Maria firefighters are now ramping up their messaging to the public in an effort to build support within the community.

Bright red signage that reads, "Fair Pay For Firefighters," as well as other union messaging can now be seen in various locations around Santa Maria, including at the busy corner of Cook Street and Miller Street.

"Over the last few months, our message has been getting out more and more, and the community has been approaching us when we're out on emergencies, when we're out in public to ask how they can help," said Firefighters Union Local 2020 President Matt Chircop. "And they've turned out, by showing up to City Council meetings, by allowing us to put up signs in their businesses on their lawns, magnets on their cars, in an effort to show the city and City Council that they truly care about us, and they are insisting that City Hall change their priorities and prioritize their firefighters."

Firefighters have been working without a contract for six months since their last one expired in December.

Last month, as contract talks failed to produce a deal, an impasse was officially declared by city leaders.

Since then, the firefighters union said there has been no discussions between the two sides, or any other productive movement working towards a new deal.

"They haven't reached out," said Chricop. "There's been no updates. There's been no request to sit down and discuss. There has been nothing. It's been radio silence."

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 the busiest fire department in the county and the second lowest paid fire department in the Tri-Counties area," said Chircop. "In a city where executives receive very high compensation, that far surpasses the local market, we are second to last. We're looking for a fair and reasonable contract that gets us to the average of mean in median. We're simply asking for average pay. That is really important to us."

The firefighters union will be present at tonight's City Council meeting to speak directly in front of Councilmembers about their desire to agree to a new contract.

Chricop added there will be many speakers during the public comment period who will talk in support of the union, including community members and business owners.

News Channel has reached out to the City of Santa Maria to comment on the status of the negotiations and received a statement from Interim City Manager Alex Posada, which read:

"The City declared impasse on April 8 in its negotiations with the Fire Fighters Union Local 2020. (news release was issued April 11). The 30-day legislated waiting period expires on Wednesday, May 8.

During this time, the Fire Fighters Local 2020 did not request fact-finding or mediation. As a result of this failure by the union, no mediator was engaged. The City Council discussed options during this time in closed session.

With 30-day period over, the next step for the City Council is to decide whether and/or when to schedule an open session to impose the City’s last offer.

The City and union began negotiations in November 2023. The City made offers including a two-year package with a 5 percent wage increase beginning January 2024 with a second 5 percent wage increase in year 2, which would start in January 2025.  The union rejected all the City offers, including the two year 10 percent increase.  The union’s rejection of the City’s offer has resulted in this impasse.

Local 2020 employees continue to work under the terms of their contract that expired December 31, 2023.

The City successfully agreed with SEIU Local 620, its Non-Represented Management and Confidential Employees, and its Public Safety Managers for two year contracts while the City has been concurrently negotiating with the Fire Fighters union."

Tonight's City Council meeting is scheduled to begin at Santa Maria City Council chambers at 5:30 p.m.

Article Topic Follows: Local Politics
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Dave Alley

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