Vetoed contractreveals pay scale

NASHUA – Three-quarters of the city’s firefighters would have received average annual raises of 4.3 percent or less over five years, under terms of the contract vetoed by the mayor.

The proposal gave much larger pay raises to the least-experienced quarter of the force, those in grade 1. They would have received annual increases of between 6.5 percent and 12 percent over the course of the contract, including a one-year bump for beginning firefighters of almost 24 percent in fiscal year 2009, according to salary figures the city provided to The Telegraph.

For several months, dating to budget review committee meetings and board discussions, aldermen have disagreed on negotiated raises for city firefighters, which have been working for more than two years under an expired contract.

Some aldermen argued that the contract fairly compensated a group of public employees who hadn’t received a raise for two years, and risk their lives daily to protect citizens. Others said that the large contract only drained the fire department budget and would bust the city’s spending cap.

Ultimately, the board of aldermen narrowly approved the contract, only to have Mayor Donnalee Lozeau veto the cost items.

She said the contract was too expensive and would have left little money available in the fire department budget for other needs.

An attempt to override the mayor’s veto failed.

Although $1.2 million was set aside to cover contract costs, the negotiated settlement carried a $650,000 shortfall. Some aldermen have said passing a supplemental appropriation to cover the deficit would mean overriding the city’s spending cap.

The contract would have extended retroactively from fiscal year 2007 through fiscal year 2011. For those years, it would have given firefighters average raises of zero percent, 4.70 percent, 5.68 percent, 5.72 percent and 4.69 percent, respectively.

Based on 2007 pay figures, the mean salary is $54,994. If the mayor had allowed the contract to take effect, the mean salary in 2011 would have been $68,270.

However, those figures represent only base salaries, according to the city.

Add certification, overtime and shift-coverage bonuses, and the salaries could increase by as much as 40 percent, according to city figures.

Union officials and fire commission members argued that the greatest percentage of raises under the failed contract would have been for new firefighters who completed their probationary period.

It is true that firefighters who were the lowest paid and least experienced would have received the biggest average annual raises under the contract.

The majority of firefighters would have received average annual increases in base salary of 4.3 percent or less.

Seventy-nine of them, or nearly half of the 165 firefighters covered by the contract, would have received annual increases of 4.3 percent.

Another 45 firefighters would have gotten annual increases of less than 4.3 percent.

In issuing her veto, Lozeau said that the majority of firefighters would receive raises in line with those given to other city unions.

For example, the contentious teachers contract settled last spring provided salary increases of between 5.55 percent and 6.98 percent in each year of their four-year contract.

The firefighters and teachers contracts both gave a 0 percent retroactive raise.

After the veto, the firefighters union, Local 789 of the International Association of Firefighters, and the city were to return to the bargaining table. Paul Garant, fire commission chairman, said the parties have been discussing tentative dates to meet.

While saying a strike was out of the question, firefighters periodically have set up informational picket lines outside of City Hall.

According to the city’s figures, 51 of the city’s 165 firefighters earned a base pay of $48,452 for the 2007 fiscal year.

That salary would have increased nearly 15 percent, to $56,759, in 2011 under terms of the vetoed contract.

Those 51 firefighters are the most at any salary level in the schedule, according to the city’s figures. They are at the step four on the pay scale, a measure of years of service. Steps range from new hires in their probationary period to an eighth step.

They also were designated at grade two. Grades are related to job descriptions and responsibilities.

Tied for the next highest are two of the lower levels on the pay scale. Fifteen firefighters earned $36,953, and 17 earned $44,344. These were firefighters with the least experience.

At the top of the pay level, one firefighter earned a base salary of $72,041 and one earned $70,621.

Under the vetoed contract, the highest paid firefighter in 2011 would have earned $84,393.