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February 21. 2012 11:45PM

Firefighter contract OK'd by aldermen

MANCHESTER — The Board of Mayor and Aldermen agreed to a tentative new contract with city firefighters and finalized a contract with firefighter supervisors Tuesday night, gaining concessions on health care while still offering small cost-of-living raises and more vacation time.

The Manchester Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 856 contract is similar to other contracts signed by other unionized city employees as well as the Manchester Association of Fire Supervisors' contract, which was ratified by aldermen in a unanimous vote Tuesday evening.

The aldermen commended the firefighters for agreeing to make the deal.

“As alderman of Ward 6 who had to witness the devastation of the four-alarm fire on Eastern Avenue, I hope it's never something I have to witness again,” said Alderman Garth Corriveau. “Between the really heroic actions of that night and really the tremendous sacrifice you're making in this agreement, I think it's been a week the Manchester Fire Department should be very proud of.”

Both contracts extend to 2015 and include increases in health insurance contributions for firefighters. Current staff will contribute 12.5 percent of health care premiums beginning July 1 and will increase contributions to 15 percent in 2013. Co-payments for doctors and emergency room visits and prescription drugs also increase. All new hires after July 1 will pay 20 percent toward their premiums.

The Local 856 deal includes eliminating almost all overtime pay. For hours worked above scheduled shifts, firefighters will be paid in straight time. It also limits vacation buybacks, a program to encourage firefighters to accept payment for vacation time instead of taking time off. The program was aimed at cutting overtime pay, but hasn't saved the city the money it had hoped.

In return, the firefighters will receive a 1 percent cost-of-living increase in 2014 and 2015 and one additional week of vacation after 20 years of service.

The agreement on the Local 856 contract was reached late Tuesday evening after the board met in a closed-door session. The contract will now lay over until the next Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting for final ratifications.

These concessions, like others made by city employees, are aimed at staving off layoffs. Last year, aldermen voted to lay off up to 15 firefighters.

“Last year's budget vote was one of the toughest votes I had to take in my life. I can't imagine taking a tougher vote again,” said Alderman Russ Ouellette. “Hopefully now we can move forward and rebuild the working relationship we have with (firefighters).”

The aldermen also voted on tentative agreements previously reached with the airport and library unions, as well as a benefits deal made with the city's non-unionized employees.

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