The executive director of the Lincoln Independent Business Association, Coby Mach, touted his belief that the contract between the city and the Firefighters Union was full of what he called “sweeteners” that went beyond what other city unions received (Local View, Oct. 12, LJS.)
The truth is that the working conditions of the Firefighters have been established over several decades that has involved true comparisons among peer departments. The city of Lincoln and the Firefighters Union have long recognized that “comparability,” as that term has been defined under the law in the state of Nebraska, involves a review of overall compensation based on external comparables rather than internal comparables. Mach should understand this. His views expressed in his October 12, 2012 “article” were deliberately misleading:
• The City only pays 100 percent of the health insurance premium for employees selecting single coverage, which makes up less than 21 percent of the participating employees. The same is true for the employee’s dental plan, which is actually a component of the health plan, and Mach did not mention these facts in his attempt to paint the firefighters as the recipients of a sweetheart deal. This contribution distribution was established by comparability.
• The city deposits money that otherwise would be paid to employees as wages into an account for post-employment health care costs. This amount was arrived at in exchange for actual wage increases, which would have been paid in previous contract years.
• The city does not pay 2 percent bonuses every year to every employee. The city does pay longevity pay for employees employed after five years, which is the direct result of comparability within peer cities.
• Lincoln’s sick leave benefit for firefighters is identical to that provided to police officers in the city, and it is important to note that firefighters work nearly 800 hours more a year than employees assigned to a 40-hour week, such as police and civilians.
• The Ccity tuition reimbursement provision in the collective bargaining agreement is capped at $750 on an annual basis, which can pay for one three-hour course at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln per contract year. That is not a generous benefit and is well below that of our comparable cities. The majority of our members do not use this benefit.
• Union officials are allowed union time to conduct union business, which is consistent with working conditions provided to firefighters throughout our array of comparable cities. It must be remembered Lincoln firefighters are scheduled to work 2,912 hours a year rather than the standard 2,080 hours for a 40-hour week. In Lincoln, these hours are used by 10 union officials for conducting union business.
• It is completely false for Mr. Mach to suggest that the city pays on-call employees for two hours of work when they do not receive a call. If an employee is truly on-call, he is compensated during that period of time.
• It is outrageous for Mach to suggest that it is a “perk” for city employees to be given the option to purchase health insurance through the city after they separate employment when those employees who do so pay 100 percent of the costs associated with that coverage. Without this very expensive option for retirees, we would see increased injuries and disability pensions.
Mach also complains that the average salary of a Lincoln Fire & Rescue employee is $75,750. The top classification represented by our bargaining unit is Fire Captain and Fire Inspector II. That is 69 out of the approximately 280 employees represented, with a top step salary of $76,885 per year making his average figure impossible. Lincoln firefighters work 2,912 hours a year (and don’t receive overtime until after 53 hours a week) instead of the 2,080 hours a year of a 40-hour a week employee, or 832 more hours than a 40-hour employee. ASSUMING Mr. Mach’s numbers are correct (which I don’t believe to be true) and the AVERAGE salary is $75,750, then the average Lincoln firefighter makes $26.01 per hour in comparison to the $30.72 per hour average Lincoln police officer, as cited by Mr. Mach’s $63,888 figure.
The firefighters have negotiated in good faith with the city, and we will continue to do so to ensure that the commitment our members have made to serve the citizens is equaled by the city’s commitment to provide for the safety, wages and benefits our members have earned.
Just as Mr. Mach and LIBA have the right to express an opinion about the salaries and benefits of city employees, city employees have the ability to decide where they choose to spend their salaries. I will choose to spend mine with businesses that support our city employees.
Dave Engler is president of the Lincoln Firefighters Association.