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Fire pact to make layoffs laborious

The Evanston City Council is scheduled to vote on a new contract with its firefighters union tonight that will make it difficult for the council to reduce fire staffing in next year’s budget.

The contract hammered out by city and union negotiators and already ratified by union members doesn’t making staffing levels a permanent subject for collective bargaining — the original demand of the union.

But it does make staffing subject to negotiation and an accellerated arbitration process for the duration of the new contract — which will run through December 2011.

Under the contract terms, it appears it would take a minimum of about two months to work through the process, and, if an arbitrator turned down the city’s proposal, the city would be unable to impose layoffs to balance its budget.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz, in a memo to aldermen, says the contract "meets budget expectations" for the current fiscal year with no general pay increase, a suspension of holiday pay and a 10 percent increase in health insurance premiums paid by union members.

He says that the second year of the agreement is expected to cost the city less than $150,000 for pay hikes of 2 percent in March and 1 percent in September, partially offset by some holiday pay cuts and health insurance payment increases.

Talks on the contract agreement started last December. They reached an impass over staffing issues in March that led to the layoff of three firefighters, who were reinstated after a tentative agreement on a new contract was reached last month.

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