New leadership credited with overcoming impasse on long-stalled firefighter contract

Portland Fire Chief David Jackson (BDN file photo by Seth Koenig)

Portland Fire Chief David Jackson (BDN file photo by Seth Koenig)

Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling and City Councilor Belinda Ray trumpeted the role of new leadership Friday afternoon in the announcement that the local firefighters’ union has agreed to a contract with the city.

The deal is newsworthy, in part, because the previous contract expired more than two years ago, and talks between city negotiators and representatives of Local 740 of the International Association of Firefighters had become increasingly strained and contentious.

Since July, however, Portland has welcomed a new city manager, fire chief and firefighters’ union president, largely overhauling the cast of players involved in the talks. The fresh faces were able to shed the baggage of the previous rounds of negotiations and forge a new pact, Strimling and Ray suggested.

“I am very pleased that the firefighters’ union and the city have negotiated a contract that has received such overwhelming support from union members,” said Ray, a member of the council’s Health & Human Services Committee, in a statement. “This accomplishment is a testament to the leadership skills of City Manager Jon Jennings, union President Chris Thompson, and our newly appointed fire chief, David Jackson.”

Added Strimling: “I want to thank the city manager for bringing everyone back to the table. I’m really pleased that the leadership of the new manager, union president and fire chief were able to successfully negotiate a contract that is good for the city and union members. I look forward to voting on it at the next council meeting on March 7.”

Jackson was appointed fire chief late last month after five years as deputy chief and three months as acting chief, following the resignation of previous chief Jerome LaMoria after just two years at the post.

According to the city — and confirmed by Thompson, who was elected president of the union in December, in an interview with the Portland Press Herald — the new contract covers four years.

Retroactive pay raises go back to 2014 and include a 1 percent raise as of Jan. 5, 2014, and 1.5 percent raises every six months through January of this year, as well as another 1 percent raise on July 3 of this year.

The deal also implements new educational stipends, tacking on between 24 cents and 48 cents per hour for firefighters with post secondary degrees (with the exact amount depending on whether the degree is an associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree).

The contract includes increases to clothing and equipment allowances, a change to the medical insurance plan and a provision permitting firefighters who have at least three weeks of vacation to cash in one week of vacation time each year for pay.

The union’s major concession was to agree to regular pay — as opposed to overtime pay — for the first 12 hours members work beyond their regular respective 42-hour work weeks.

Overtime pay for firefighters has been a point of concern for the city in recent years.

A comprehensive 500-page audit of the fire department delivered in 2013 described local overtime expenditures “unusually high,” topping $1.49 million in costs each of the previous five years.

Below is some coverage of that audit by WGME, CBS 13, at the time:

Seth Koenig

About Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.