Pubdate: Tue, 19 Dec 2006
Source: Corpus Christi Caller-Times (TX)
Copyright: 2006 Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Author: David Kassabian, Caller-Times


New Deal Gives Raises, Starts Zero-Tolerance Policy for Drug Use

Firefighters could have a contract agreement in place that includes a 
3 percent raise per year for two years and a 2.25 percent increase in 
the final year if it is approved today by the City Council.

Negotiators for the city of Corpus Christi and the Corpus Christi 
Firefighters Association broke an extended contract impasse during 
the weekend, city and fire officials said Monday.

The new three-year contract, retroactive to when the last one expired 
July 2005, could be approved during today's City Council meeting. It 
also must be approved by the association's membership, said City 
Manager Skip Noe.

"It's always difficult when you have an extended bargaining period," 
Noe said. "We're hopeful we will get approval from council."

Other terms include changing the previous contract's drug testing 
requirement to include a zero-tolerance policy. Firefighters who had 
tested positive were able to approach fire administration before 
results arrived and request entry into a drug treatment program - an 
option not in the new contract.

Firefighters association negotiators have been in contract talks with 
the city for 17 months.

One of the main sticking points during negotiations was the city's 
desire for the zero-tolerance drug testing and a fitness-testing 
program for all firefighters, said Carlos Torres, association 
president. When the City Council backed off on the fitness-testing 
requirement, both groups were able to agree on changing the 
department's drug testing, he said.

"Now, once you're tested at the station, it's too late," Torres said. 
"If you're a firefighter with an illegal drug problem, you need to 
come forward. Waiting to get drug tested is too late."

The department has had mandatory drug testing since 1995, including 
testing for new hires, post-accident testing and reasonable-cause 
testing, he said.

The tentative contract still needs to be analyzed by the 
association's negotiating team before it goes before all 320 
association members for final approval.

Firefighters with the department since the previous contract expired 
would receive the new contract's 3 percent raise in a lump sum once 
the contract is approved, Torres said. If all goes well, the 
association could vote on the contract the first week of January.

"The bargaining process has been interesting," Torres said. "Neither 
side is going to get 100 percent of what they want."

Talks with the Corpus Christi Police Officers Association, which also 
is negotiating a new contract, are ongoing and unlikely to be 
resolved in the next few days, Noe said.

Police officers have been without a contract for four months and have 
been in talks with the city for 10 months, said Domingo Ibarra, 
association president.

The police association is looking for a four-year contract that gives 
officers a 3 percent raise in the first year, 4 percent raise in the 
second, 5 percent in the third and a salary increase in the fourth 
year that would bring officers' pay up to state average.

Ibarra could not be reached for comment Monday afternoon.

Both groups are able to enter contract talks with the city after 
voters approved both associations' collective bargaining rights in the 1970s.

The city has paid a private consulting firm $250,000 since 2002 to 
assist in all police and fire contract negotiations, Noe said.


The Corpus Christi Firefighters Association has about 380 members. 
The current monthly salary for firefighters is $2,369 for a trainee 
and $3,027 for a starting firefighter.

Monthly salary effective Aug. 1, 2005, under the tentative contract 
agreement (retroactive)

Trainee: $2,440

Starting firefighter: $3,118

Monthly salary effective Aug. 1, 2006, under the agreement (retroactive)

Trainee: $2,513

Starting firefighter: $3,212

Monthly salary effective Aug. 1, 2007, under the agreement

Trainee: $2,570

Starting firefighter: $3,284

Source: Corpus Christi Firefighters Association
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