Laconia firefighters agree to first new union deal in 3 years

LACONIA — The City Council last night unanimously approved a new collective bargaining agreement negotiated with the Laconia Professional Firefighters (LPA), International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1153, who have worked without a contract since July 2010.
The one-year contract takes effect July 1 and provides firefighters with a two-percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to their salaries, equivalent to that awarded other city employees in fiscal year 2012-2013, along with another two-percent COLA for fiscal year 2013-2014. Employees, though, will receive no lump sum payments to compensate them for the period they worked without raises.
"There is no retroactive payment," stressed City Manager Scott Myers, who explained that the COLAs were awarded to match a corresponding increase in the employees' share of health insurance premiums from four-percent to 15-percent.
In addition to the COLAs, five probationary firefighters will receive salary step raises on July 1, 2013 and all employees who would have been entitled to step raises in fiscal year 2012-2013 eligible will receive one step on July 1, 2013. The contract also adds two three-percent step raises to the wage scale, one at four years and another at 10 years.
The gross cost of the COLAs and steps is $161,244, which together with educational stipends and retirement contributions amount to compensation and benefits worth $213,441. Since the increased employee contribution to health insurance premiums has a value of $100,441, Myers calculated the total cost of the contract at $113,030.
The package of compensation and benefits mirrors those negotiated with the Laconia Patrolman Association, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and State Employees Association, which represent other city employees. Contacts with all four unions will expire on June 30, 2014 and the process of negotiating new collective bargaining agreements will begin in October.
Chad Vaillancourt, president of LPA, said that his members were satisfied with the contract, but still considered their compensation low relative to firefighters working in comparable departments. He said that while the wages and salaries of Laconia's police officers ranked in the middle of their peer group, "we're still at the bottom." He said that firefighters believe that their compensation should rank midway among their peers, paralleling the position of the police.