Firefighters, county closing in on completed contract
Captain Danny Garcia, the president of the International Association of Firefighters Local #3169, right, and Lt. Eric Schwartz, second from right, take part in negotiations as other firefighters listen during the Collective Bargaining Agreement meeting between Marion County and the Professional Firefighters of Marion County on Thursday, February 10, 2022. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2022.
The Marion County Board of County Commissioners and the Professional Firefighters of Marion County (PFFMC) are one step closer to coming to an agreement on a new three-year collective bargaining agreement after the two sides had a productive meeting on Thursday.
“I thought it went well,” said Amanda Tart, the executive director of Administrative Services and Human Resources for Marion County who represents the county during the discussions.
“We still have about six articles to get back together and agree upon, and I need to go and cost out their counter-proposal to us, but hopefully next week, when we get back to the table, we’ll be able to sort through those articles and get a contract to bring to their body to vote on.”
Danny Garcia, the president of PFFMC agreed and is also hopeful the next meeting will bring about a finalized contract.
“[Today] we made a lot of progress on several of the articles that we’ve been stuck on. We cleared up some of the contract articles that we had agreed to in principle already,” he said. “I think realistically, we’re really only a couple of articles away from being done. So I think we might actually be able to wrap this up next week.”
The proposed contract contains 56 total articles, and at the start of the day’s negotiation, which was PFFMC’s chance to respond to the county’s latest counteroffer, Garcia identified more than a dozen articles that needed to be discussed.
The bulk of the time was spent discussing the article dealing with employee wages, something that Marion County Fire Rescue Deputy Chief for Operations Robert Graff said is one of the most important issues in the contract.
“Both sides are trying to work to provide the employees a competitive wage package to keep them engaged in our workforce, and that they don’t start to look elsewhere,” he said.
In determining an acceptable compromise on raising wages, the county, according to Tart, has to consider multiple factors.“We pay about 38% of their salary to benefits, whether that’s health insurance, FRS (Florida retirement system), workers comp, taxes, I mean, all of those things that come on top of just the hourly rate of pay or the annual salary that you pay somebody,” she said.
She went on to say she believed that once the pay hurdle is cleared, “The other ones are pretty easy changes here and there. So I think we’ll be able to hash out the wage article, and then we should be good to go, I hope.”
In addition to the wage article, additional articles dealing with pay related to light duty assignments, holidays, annual and sick leave, as well as worker’s compensation are the remaining areas the two sides will discuss.
Graff said finalizing a contract is integral to giving current and potential employees a roadmap to what working for MCFR is or would be like.
“I think it provides stability in the workforce and lets them know what they can expect over the period of time for their hours, wages, and the terms and conditions of employment,” he said.
Much like the county, PFFMC leadership too must find an acceptable compromise between wanting to be a good negotiating partner with the county, but also knowing that anything they agree to must be approved by their general body. Garcia said he understands that dynamic and believes the current contract will check both blocks.
“So we’re always cognizant of whatever we agree to, whatever we tentatively agree to, has to be ratified by the body,” Garcia said. “So if we know that we’re presenting something to them that won’t ratify, we obviously try to not do that, we try to always present a contract to our membership that we know, or feel pretty good at least, will ratify. And so where we’re at right now is that we feel that if what we’re close to tentatively agreeing to is what we actually ultimately get to the body, we feel pretty confident they would ratify.”
With Marion County growing at its current rapid pace, rescue services are seeing demands grow exponentially, something Graff said the county is mindful of.“We’re very cognizant of the increase in population within Marion County. With that population comes an increase in call load, and we understand that the employees right now are very concerned about their workload,” he said. “I know the commission is concerned as well. They have given us additional staff, they’ve given us additional units. And now we just need to make sure that we keep our wage package competitive so that they’ll stay here and continue to work, continue to stay engaged in the workforce so we can solve the problems of workload and make Marion County better.”
The two sides will meet again on Friday, Feb. 18 at 1:30 p.m. in Green Clover Hall, located at 319 S.E. 26th Terrace, Ocala, FL 34471.