AVON PARK - After about seven months of negotiations, the City of Avon Park and the International Association of Fire Fighters fire union have reached a tentative collective bargaining agreement.
The agreement contract is expected to be approved effective March 19 at the Avon Park City Council's regular meeting Monday.
The contract has areas of substantial change, said City Manager Julian Deleon. Among them, he said the city wanted concessions over pension benefits. The Avon Park Professional Firefighters Local 3132 agreed to a 2 percent pension vesting benefit multiplier versus 3.16 percent, said Avon Park Fire Department Capt. Warren West, president of Local 3121, which will allow the city to keep state insurance proceeds and the city's pension liability should decrease in the future.
Deleon said the union wanted to keep a defined benefit program offering pension disability benefits to employees injured on the job and a compromise was reached, avoiding the use of an alternative 401K, which the union opposed.
In addition, a formula for pay increases was settled.
Currently, said West, when hired you get automatic step pay increases over seven-year steps, which take eight years to reach, meaning employees starting out at minimum pay tops out in eight years. The union and city agreed that new firefighter increases would be graduated over 15 years, minimizing the financial liability of employees topping out in eight years.
"We like the fact that over future years, this financial liability will be spread over 15 years, instead of the current seven years," Deleon said.
West said 15 years may affect tenure, but he was glad an agreement was reached.
"Overall, it was fair negotiations and we came to mutual agreements. I'm happy with them but I have some concerns about the future with tenure; they can address that in the future if they can't keep firefighters," said West, who's served with the fire department for 28 years.
Other significant changes included probation for new hires extending from six to 12 months; guaranteed three weeks beyond the allowable 12 weeks permitted under the U.S. Family and Medical Leave Act; holiday pay not taken can be accumulated as comp-time with a cap increased from 48 to 96 hours; and vacation approvals would require a two-week rather than five-week notice.