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Roseville firefighters battle City Hall over stalled labor talks

Firefighters prepare to attack the fire from the roof at the Westfield Galleria at Roseville in October 2010. Roseville firefighters are in a protracted dispute with the city over their contract and have cited the blaze in a public relations campaign..
Firefighters prepare to attack the fire from the roof at the Westfield Galleria at Roseville in October 2010. Roseville firefighters are in a protracted dispute with the city over their contract and have cited the blaze in a public relations campaign.. Bee file photo

Frustrated by stalled talks at the bargaining table, Roseville firefighters are waging an aggressive campaign to drum up community support for a new labor contract.

Their union, Local 1592, has launched a public relations blitz – including billboards, public rallies, printed signs and social media messages – aimed at Roseville City Hall, which has rejected the group’s latest contract proposal. The previous agreement expired Dec. 31.

Negotiations, which began in November, are at an impasse, union President Jamie Pepin said. A mediation hearing is set for Tuesday, he said.

Meanwhile, Local 1592 is taking its case to the public with a stark reminder of the role of firefighters in the community. Outside the Westfield Galleria at Roseville, where a devastating arson fire in 2010 caused $55 million in damages and shut down portions of the mall for months, an electronic billboard flashes a scene of firefighters attacking a wall of flames with water.

The message asks, “Is the safety of our community worth 50 cents an hour?” and urges viewers to call City Hall in support of firefighters.

The amount refers to how much the union’s proposal would cost the city per hour worked by each firefighter during the two-year term of the deal, Pepin said. He declined to give specifics about the proposal, citing rules that forbid disclosure by either party during labor negotiations.

Although the union is seeking “very modest” cost-of-living raises and health care allowances, the main issue is a plan by city officials to cut salaries, medical benefits and pensions for new employees, Pepin said. He said the proposal would make it hard for the Fire Department to recruit and retain quality candidates and would hurt rank-and-file morale.

“We think that will have a devastating effect on the department,” he said.

At City Hall, a spokesman said City Manager Ray Kerridge would not comment on contract issues. Phone calls to Mayor Carol Garcia were not returned.

According to written information from city officials, Roseville fire engineers are paid 9.5 percent above the regional median in total compensation, while firefighter paramedics earn 1.76 percent above the median, according to a joint study by local fire agencies.

A study also found that new Roseville firefighter/paramedics earn $65,187 in annual base pay, compared with $64,428 in Folsom, $59,784 for the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District and $51,108 for the South Placer Fire District.

Roseville officials declined to discuss specifics of the proposed firefighters’ contract, citing rules against disclosure, but said the city’s offer reflects efforts to reduce unfunded medical and pension costs highlighted in a Placer County grand jury report.

“We have been able to reduce long-term liabilities with our other bargaining groups during previous negotiations,” officials said in a written statement. “The city is not asking the firefighters union to accept changes different from those groups.”

Pepin said the union has made concessions during the last eight years, as Roseville and other local governments struggled during the recession. Since then, he said, city managers have received cost-of-living raises and increased health care allowances. With the city’s financial picture improved, firefighters “are tired of concessions,” he said.

“We have been promised that someday this would end, and we think now that that promise was never intended to be kept,” Pepin said. “If we agree to cuts now, that will ensure more cuts in the future and it’s never going to end. So we’re finally standing up and saying ‘No more.’”

Robert D. Dávila: (916) 321-1077, @Bob_Davila

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