Response From Mayor's Office
“Mayor Suttle has made pension reform a priority since he’s been in office and negotiated police and fire contracts that brought solvency to the pension system,” said Aida Amoura, spokesman for Mayor Suttle. “He has not seen the tentative agreement reached between firefighters and the City Council nor has he been told specifically what is in the contract. He’s hoping for the best, but wants to make sure taxpayers are given a complete and accurate picture of what has been agreed on before commenting on the new fire contract."
The Omaha City Council has announced the latest tentative agreement on a new contract with firefighters. Negotiators say they have the votes to make it stick.
The deal runs through December 2014. It calls for wage increases of an average of 1.6 percent per year over the duration of he contract. The agreement also calls for the end of pension spiking and increases employee contributions to health and pension benefits.
The deal must now gain approval from the union rank and file, the personnel board and then the full City Council.
Deals have been put in front of the rank and file before only to get lost in politics. This time, a committee made the deal, not the mayor's office, and those on the committee believe that made the difference.
“Our goals ever since we rejected the mayor's contract is we wanted more significant health care reform and pension reform, more than what was in the mayor's agreement,” says Councilwoman Jean Stothert.
The city will save more than $2 million over the life of the deal with firefighters paying more for their pension and health care benefits. “We raised the age of retirement from 45 to 55, the length of service for full pension benefits went from 25 years to 30 years," says Stothert.
“While both sides probably wish they could have done a little bit better, both sides wish they could have gotten a little bit more I think,” said Steve LeClair of the Firefighters Union. “We finally realized, hey listen, we got as much as we're going to get, you've gotten as much as you're going to get, we've reached that point we've got to deal here."
Members of the negotiating committee believe they should have a deal before the end of the year. “This agreement needs to be approved by the City Council, the mayor has the ability to veto it if he feels like it's necessary, it is my sense it will have the anonymous vote of the City Council and therefore it would be veto-proof," says Stothert.
To some -- it seems firefighters have spent more time in court and at the negotiating table the last few years than fighting fires.
"I think this is an opportunity for all of us to put this period of contentious history behind us and move forward," said LeClair.
Stothert is running for mayor. No doubt -- the issue will be a big piece of the race.
Mayor Jim Suttle, who is running for re-election, fired back with a statement saying he's "made pension reform a priority since he's been in Omaha and negotiated police and fire contracts that brought solvency to the pension system."
"In the end, it will be the two of them fighting over who could negotiate and did negotiate the best contract," said Paul Landow -- who is a political science professor at UNO and used to be chief-of-staff for Mayor Fahey -- the last time a firefighter contract was approved.
We asked for reaction from other major mayoral candidates.
State Senator Brad Ashford: It's a "good start. This issue is about righting the ship."
Businessman Dave Nabity: "It looks like grandstanding for political purpose. The Trojan horse is whether there are restrictions for staffing and equipment."
Former City Councilman Dan Welch: "I am not optimistic that the proposal does much for taxpayer relief or to ensure the solvency of the retirement system for future city employees."
The firefighters are expected to vote on the proposal in late November.