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Firefighters unhappy with proposed COLA freeze

Sunnyside Firefighter Josh Roe, acting in capacity as president of the International Association of Firefighters Local 3542, addressed the city council at last Monday's meeting about the proposed freeze in the cost of living allowance for firefighters.

Roe told the council it was a little late in the game to be proposing to freeze the 3 percent COLA the firefighters have already budgeted into their 2008 budgets. Especially, he said, since it wasn't even six months ago that the city entered into a contract with the bargaining unit.

He told the council Sunnyside firefighters get paid 13 percent less than comparable departments and work 13 percent more hours.

A 3 percent COLA represents about $126 a month, with only 35 percent of that coming from the general fund.

He acknowledged 3 percent doesn't seem like much but each year the COLAs build on each other and it could affect a person's retirement by as little as hundreds of dollars per month to as much as thousands of dollars a month.

Roe said the firefighters understand the city is working with a tight budget this year but they don't feel it's their fault.

He noted the city has spent more than $160,000 in legal fees fighting Tom Paul over a property dispute, and $82,000 in legal fees fighting a labor dispute with his bargaining unit.

"That's almost $250,000," Roe said. "That's two and a half employees."

He said firefighters expect their employment to be fulltime and permanent, although they understand layoffs are a possibility.

However, Roe noted, the city has two contract workers as of now and he would like to see the city take care of its permanent employees first.

Roe told the council he thinks every city employee is doing a good job, which was reinforced, he said, by council's comments to staff about the budget.

But, he said, contract work is comparable to having a maid.

"If you have the money, you hire a maid," Roe told the council. "If you don't have the money, you get rid of the maid, not the kids."

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