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First Responders to Receive Back Pay in Lump Sum

Boston Globe via YellowBrix

June 14, 2010

BOSTON – Boston firefighters will receive an average lump-sum payment of $29,000 because of retroactive pay increases included in the city’s new five-year contract with the firefighters’ union, city officials said yesterday.

Some firefighters will receive significantly more because of their rank, seniority, and overtime; others will receive less.

City officials said the payments, which will be sent to firefighters in the next three to four months, will cost taxpayers about $50 million in all. The city intends to fund those checks with $46 million from cash reserves it has set aside specifically for the resolution of the firefighters’ contract, and $4 million from the city’s meals tax revenue.

The deal, which takes effect following the City Council’s vote yesterday, will also lead to a higher payroll, as firefighters’ new wage levels take effect. Menino administration officials said they expect to spend $23 million on firefighter pay next fiscal year, which begins July 1.

City officials said the new contract gives most firefighters raises worth more than 17 percent over five fiscal years, from 2006 through 2011; when calculated through the next fiscal year, 2012, the raises amount to 20.5 percent. The original arbitrator’s award would have cost the city 19.2 percent in raises through five years, according to the city.

Still, city officials said the agreement with the union will save taxpayers a total of $45 million over 20 years, compared with the award given to firefighters last month by an independent labor arbitrator.

The savings come from an agreement between the city and the union to reduce, from 2.5 percent to 1.5 percent, the pay increase that firefighters will receive in exchange for undergoing drug and alcohol testing, and to delay the benefit for a year, to June 30, 2011.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s aides said yesterday that while the $74 million contract would still squeeze the city’s finances in the midst of a fiscal crunch, the agreement to reduce the award for drug and alcohol testing was a reasonable compromise.

“It’s a very meaningful reduction in an arbitration award that raises very serious concerns for the taxpayers,’’ said John D. Dunlap, the city’s labor relations director.

Dot Joyce, the mayor’s spokeswoman, said Menino was “happy to be moving forward.’’

Fiscal watchdogs warned that the contract would encourage other city unions to demand large pay increases, even as the city closes libraries and lays off workers to help balance its budget for next fiscal year.

Those analysts pointed out that the contract for the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association — the city’s largest police union — expires June 30, and that fire and police unions have traditionally sought parity in pay and benefits.

“It’s raising the bar for negotiations in the next round for all the other contracts, especially the four police unions and the teachers,’’ said Samuel R. Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau. “That could potentially raise future contract costs beyond what the city is able to afford, going into some pretty tough years where we’re expecting deeper local aid cuts.’’

The agreement with the firefighters union also rebrands the pay increase for drug and alcohol testing, so that future hires will receive the benefit for participating in a health and wellness program.

That program will require them to submit paperwork from their doctor showing that they passed a physical exam and will require them to complete a state-sponsored physical fitness test.

That change was designed to appease city officials who were opposed to paying for drug and alcohol testing and to satisfy firefighters who have long pushed for a health and wellness program to help reduce incidences of cancer and heart disease in their ranks.