Firefighter Contract: Council approves City's "best & final offer"

By Lee Peck - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - A new contract with Lake Charles Firefighters took center stage at a special City Council meeting Tuesday night. After more than two months of contract negotiations with the Lake Charles Firefighters Union, the City says they've reached their best and final offer.

Compromise has been made over the course of four meetings which began on July 27th. The union withdrew their request of a 20 percent pay raise for firefighters over the next three years.

"Even though there are some guys who would hold your feet over the fire because we are trying to go toward Sulphur pay - we are still 3,000 behind them. It's not the economic climate we all hoped for right now. We understand that," said Will Veuleman, Firefighter Union 561 President.

However there are some things the union isn't willing to budge on - including the realignment of vacation schedules and the exclusion of vacation time towards time worked. Then there's the city employee sick leave policy - that's cracking down on those who abuse the system without a doctor's excuse.

"If you have more than two absences within that contract year you are on probation for 12 months," explained Lake Charles City Administrator John Cardone.

"Why is it that the fire department does not want to go along with what everyone else in the city is following? Why should you be exempt," asked City Council President Rodney Geyen.

"To be able to take a benefit away and not compensate with pay - is unacceptable at this time. And that is pretty much the union's stance on that. We felt we were losing benefits and gaining nothing," said Veuleman.

After hearing what they had to say the council members went into executive session to discuss the matter behind close doors. They would emerge some 15 minutes later to approve the City's offer despite the union's rejection.

"We will have a meeting to decide whether to accept or decline. I can't comment on how that is going to go we'll see come Thursday night," said Veuleman.

Regardless of the outcome of the union's vote the council's action makes it a moot point.

"The City Council has given the mayor the authority to implement the benefits as set forth in our last best offer," said City Attorney Billy Loftin.

The contract will last for one year. After that time city officials say they'll revisit the pay issue.

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