Brad Jensen is the president of Fire Fighters Local 731. The 34-year-old has been a firefighter in Reno for 11 years, and became president of the union in December 2008. He’s been involved with the union leadership for nine years. As president, it’s been kind of a baptism by fire as the city of Reno has been asking concessions of the union to help overcome a budget crunch that has made headlines in the local press and on television news. Last week, the union came up with an offer that may help the city meet its goals without causing layoffs.
What were the circumstances that brought about the offer that firefighters made the offer to the city?
We listened to the City Council on Wednesday to their demands. We sat down and looked at the situation and said, “Yeah, we can do something to help here. We’re going to step up and give something to the city.”
The main concession was a change in staffing rules. What does that mean?
Let me walk you through the whole offer, how’s that? It breaks down pretty simple. The city asked for six months of 2.1 percent of our contract, which equates to $353,600. We’re offering a better deal. We’re offering nine months at the tune of $530,000 and change, which is $180,000 more than they were asking for. Because we don’t think the situation is going to resolve itself in six months, we wanted to give them more. We wanted to go above and beyond, just like firefighters always do, and give them something tangible to hold onto. That’s basically broke down with us giving back clothing allowances, clothing maintenance fees and two holidays. The big crux of this thing was the overtime, and what we have done is given an offer to the city that keeps the seats manned. No more brownouts. It saves the city money because it drives down overtime because we are willing to do vacation trades which is no cost to the city. We are willing to work for straight time when we should be getting overtime.
Basically, it’s very simple. Let’s say I want to take Monday off. Instead of putting in for overtime, pushing a button, sending my vacation time in, in which case they’ve got to pay somebody time and a half, I’m going to call you and say, “Hey Brian, do you want to work my vacation time?” You go, “Hey, I’m not doing anything Monday. Sounds great.” I go into the computer, push “vacation trade,” you work for me, and so those hours which are already in the system, they’re my vacation hours, go to you. So there’s no cost to the city.
I see. Is the reason for extending the agreement to nine months and then having a one-year extension of the contract partly because you don’t expect this economic situation to be resolved in nine months?
That’s exactly it. The reason we added the contract extension is that during these times, nobody needs to go through a lengthy contract process. What this does also is it gives the city another year of a 2.1 percent savings. That could be to the tune of—if we just extended our contract out—$967,000 plus an increase in benefits. What this does is it keeps everything status quo. It keeps more money with the city. It helps them project where they’re going to be in an easier way.
The current contract has regular raises in it. Does that mean those raises freeze?
No. Everybody thinks that every six months, we automatically get a raise, and that’s not how the contract is written. The contract spells out the dates we will get those raises: “The first pay period after January 1st, 2009, we get a 2.1 percent raise; the first pay period after July 1, 2009, we get a 2.1 percent pay increase.” What this does is it just freezes our contract the way it is, so that the last line in the salary section says “Salary increase Jan. 1, 2010.” What we’re proposing is just extend the contract a year, so that there aren’t any raises delineated in there.
That seems like a pretty good offer.
We thought this was a great offer. It does three things: It saves money for the city, it keeps people in the seats, and it keeps people from being laid off. As I said earlier, the city asked for six months, 2.1; we gave them more. We responded to what the city wanted to do, now the ball’s in their court.
How’s it feel? Does the city feel receptive to this? Honestly, this feels like a negotiation to me because you offered to give some stuff, but you want a contract extension also.
Here’s what the city said all along: We need this money back. What we have done here is given them the money back. You’re right, it does kind of sound like that, but the other part of it is that this benefits them as much as it does us, the contract extension. And it does because there are no raises involved, no benefit increases. Basically what they’re doing now is asking us to give back the 2.1, and we’re doing it for another year for them. I don’t see why they wouldn’t jump on it. The city of Reno, this time, called 9-1-1, and we as firefighters did what we always do: We respond and help. Do think they’re going to go for it? I would hope they do?
The firefighters will have to vote on this whole negotiation, right? When will that happen? After the city meets again?
Here’s the situation. On Tuesday night we had a general membership meeting. We presented this package to our guys. They were very receptive. We had one-third of our membership at the meeting, which is huge considering we had another one-third was actually working that day. So we had the largest turnout I’ve seen in my 11 years here. The feeling was “Yeah, this is a great package, let’s do it, let’s do it, let’s do it.” We have to wait for the city; the city is going to give us an answer today. If they say yes, we have a 33-day waiting period before we can actually take a vote on that. Then we have four days of voting, in which case it can be implemented immediately after that. I know that it sounds like a long time, but with our schedule, it allows people time to digest it, talk about it back and forth, but we have every confidence that, if and when it gets to that point, that it will pass.