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City Council Delays Vote on New Firefighters’ Union Contract to Enable More Negotiations

Fairbanks Fire Fighters Union

The Fairbanks City Council narrowly voted Monday to postpone final consideration of a new three-year contract with the Fairbanks Fire Fighters union local.Valerie Therrien, June Rogers and Jonathan Bagwill all voted to grant Mayor Jim Matherly’s request to hold-off on voting on the ordinance ratifying the new contract so the mayor could confer further with Chief Financial Officer Carmen Randle and the contract-negotiating teams about it.

“In light of the recent changes that I wanted to discuss further with both the union and with Carmen and with the negotiating team, I’d like to go ahead and move to postpone,” Matherly told the council.

The proposed contract would grant a 1.5 percent increase in pay and health benefits to 41 members of the Fairbanks Firefighters Union. It also would award firefighters four hours per year of year of additional leave, and eliminate three captain positions and add three firefighters.

But Councilmen Jerry Cleworth and David Pruhs adamantly opposed the motion to postpone and instead argued the council should consider, then reject the contract.

“It’s not affordable – period,” Cleworth said. “And we can postpone it, but that delays negotiations for another half-month. I would say we deal with it tonight and get into the meat of it, and not keep deferring this thing.”

Pruhs said he also wants to reject the contract, because the mayor has not provided enough information to the council about the terms of the contract. And he says Matherly has brought forth additional information about the contract too late for council members to review it.

“If we vote on this” motion to postpone, Pruhs said, “I’ll be voting against this tonight, for the simple fact that we’ve never seen all the numbers.”

Credit Fairbanks Fire Fighters Union
The proposed new three-year contract includes a provision to grant the city's 41 firefighters with a 1.5 percent increase in pay and health benefits.

Matherly concedes he wasn’t able to provide much information during a previous meeting because he didn’t get information about the contract until the last minute. He also said he wants to wait until his chief of staff, Mike Meeks, recovers from illness so he can answer council members’ questions, because he headed up the city’s negotiating team.

“Last week, I was not prepared, because I just the numbers the night before,” the mayor said. “And because Mr. Meeks took ill very suddenly at the last meeting – he was our lead negotiator – I was asking for a little bit of leeway.”

The council will resume consideration of the contract during its July 23 meeting.

Also Monday, the council approved by a 5-to-0 vote amending this year’s budget to reflect an additional $776,177 in unanticipated revenue that includes nearly $420,000 from the state community assistance program and $151,000 from increased building-permit fees.

The ordinance also amended the budget to reflect more than $560,000 in additional expenditures.

Councilwoman Joy Huntington was absent from the meeting. 

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.