Two candidates for Omaha mayor are taking on a proposed labor contract between the city and its fire union, putting themselves at odds with a fellow Republican mayoral challenger.
Businessman Dave Nabity and former City Councilman Dan Welch have attacked what they say are overly generous or wasteful provisions in the tentative labor deal, which the city’s Personnel Board is set to approve today.
“The new contract, despite what some are saying, is not a good contract,” Welch, a Republican, said during a Republican luncheon Wednesday. “The new contract continues the problems we’ve had in the past. It puts off tough decisions for the union into the future, and we give up the goodies today.”
“This is going to be a major issue” in the mayoral campaign, Welch said.
Nabity, also a Republican, said the agreement reached by a group of City Council members — including Republican mayoral candidate Jean Stothert — would eliminate the city’s ability to determine Fire Department staffing.
Nabity, Stothert and Welch, along with independent Brad Ashford, will face Mayor Jim Suttle in next April’s mayoral primary. The election is officially nonpartisan.
The pending deal, supporters say, would save the city’s police and fire pension fund $822 million over 50 years. Effective until 2014, the deal would grant an average 1.6 percent wage increase per year going forward. Firefighters would pay a larger share of their health care and pension costs, though they would keep better prescription drug coverage. New hires would get lower pension benefits and have to work longer to draw full retirement benefits.
Welch said the proposed deal still does not go far enough to reform the pension system or save taxpayer dollars: “We all appreciate what police officers and firefighters do, but at the same time it simply has to be affordable for the people of Omaha, and right now it’s not. We need reform and we need it right now, and the city’s in trouble if we don’t get it right now.”
Nabity’s criticism is largely directed toward the contract’s staffing provisions.
The deal carries over language from a rejected union deal with Suttle’s administration that would grant the city “discretion” to determine department staffing. But Nabity points to other language that says the number of Fire Department positions filled upon the agreement’s approval couldn’t be subject to layoffs throughout the contract.
Those provisions would prevent the mayor and fire leadership from laying off firefighters to save money, Nabity said, because the contract language allows for staffing reductions only linked to attrition.
“It is a major mistake on the part of the City Council to put this language back in,” Nabity said. “It makes no sense to the taxpayers of the city of Omaha.”
The deal also would preserve minimum staffing requirements on fire equipment — the “four men on a truck” issue — though the agreement would expand some exceptions to that rule.
Welch said such staffing levels on city trucks are unnecessary. He said cities across the country are effectively fighting fires and providing medical care with three people per firetruck.
“Despite what you might hear at public forums, additional people aren’t going to die if you only have three people on a truck,” Welch said.
If approved by the Personnel Board, the contract will be considered by the council in December.