Police and Fire Unions Ask Council for Help

April Baer- This year's contract negotiations between Cleveland and Firefighters' Local 93 were tough. The dispute went to arbitration last Thursday. Negotiators for Mayor Mike White's administration are offering pay raises comparable to what other city employees received-approximately three and a half percent. But Bob Fisher, president of the Cleveland Firefighters Union, Local 93 says that's not enough to fix a gaping pay discrepancy.

Bob Fisher- The police and firefighters have gone from being first in the county or top in the state, to being now the bottom in the state in large municipalities, and second from the bottom in Cuyahoga County. The only one below us is East Cleveland.

AB- Fisher says the Cleveland police and fire departments often lose good people to the suburbs because of higher pay. He says the arbitration process isn't helped when city negotiators produce letters from other unions - as they did this year - attesting to the city's good faith, pitting labor groups against each other. Several members of city council have taken the unions' side in the dispute - among them, West Side Councilman Mike Dolan.

Mike Dolan- The safety forces in Cleveland don't have the right to strike, as the other people do. They are underpaid and on a daily basis they put themselves in some of the most hazardous situations in Ohio. I just don't think it's a whole lot to ask of our community to pay them competitively fair pay for fair work.

AB- Dolan has sponsored a proposal which he says is targeted at leveling the playing field during arbitration talks. It would preventing the city from comparing police and firefighters' pay with that of other Cleveland workers. Their compensation would have to be measured against that of safety workers in other big cities.

Firefighters president Bob Fisher says he thinks Dolan's proposal has a good chance to pass. He's furious Council President Mike Polensek refused this week to bring the issue up for a roll call. But Polensek defends his decision, saying he's unwilling to take council into the unchartered territory of labor negotiations.

Mike Polensek- I've always maintained that police, fire and EMS have a more dangerous job. But we don't negotiate the salaries - the administration does that.

AB- Polensek casts this as a question of procedure. But firefighters' union president Bob Fisher is not so sure. While he stops short of threatening to campaign against Polensek this fall, he says he sees a lack of leadership on issues important to the firefighters' union. But although Polensek hails from a ward thickly populated with police and firemen, the council president says he believes his position is clear.

MP- We should be working together. We've always been partners with the city safety forces. And let me make it clear: We are not going to put ourselves in a situation where we're pitted between the safety forces and all the other city employees!

AB- It's possible the issue of comparable pay will be moot in a matter of months. The next time police and firefighters sit down at the bargaining table with the city, a new mayor will be in office. Union officials say no matter who wins this fall's election, they will continue to try to get Dolan's proposal passed. The firefighters should know the results of their latest round of arbitration within 60 to 90 days. In Cleveland, April Baer, 90.3 WCPN News.

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