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April 19, 2013

Lawrence firefighters approve contract

LAWRENCE — City firefighters will receive no raises for the two years they have been without a contract and 2.5 percent raises over each of the next two years under a contract they overwhelmingly approved in two days of voting this week.

The retroactive wage freeze followed by the successive 2.5 percent raises match what the city’s two other public safety unions — the police rank and file and superior officers — recently negotiated.

The settlement leaves just one major city union, a Service Employees International Union local that represents about 150 clerical, school and public works employees, without a contract. SEIU spokesman Ike Gabriel has said he is hoping for terms similar to what the police received.

The firefighters approved the new contract in an 81-17 vote that occurred over two days, ending Wednesday night. It expires June 30, 2013.

Union president Patrick Driscoll did not return phone calls.

The contract settlement resolves one source of anxiety and contention between the firefighters and the city, even as another is rapidly surfacing.

The federal grant that has paid the salaries of 31 firefighters for the last two years expires in August and Mayor William Lantigua has not yet said how many, if any, firefighters he may layoff when the grant runs out.

Meeting with the City Council Tuesday night, Robert Nunes, the city’s state-appointed fiscal overseer, held out little hope that the city will be able to afford the $2.1 million it would cost — not including the cost of health benefits — to keep all 31 firefighters on the job through the end of the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. He said the challenge deepened this week when Jeff Riley, the state-appointed receiver running city schools, released a budget that would require $1.6 million more from the city.

“Funding 31 firefighters and $1.6 million for the schools is impossible,” Nunes warned the council. “It’s absolutely impossible. The city doesn’t have that much money. It’s just impossible to do it all.”

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