City Council steps in, takes Mayor off fire union negotiations

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August 31st, 2011

Omaha, NE- The Omaha City Council voted to continue contract negotiations with the Omaha Fire Union Tuesday, but with themselves as the negotiators.

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In a bold move, the City Council voted unanimously, 5-0, to remove Mayor Jim Suttle and his negotiating team from the Fire Union contract talks. Instead, they put themselves in charge of further negotiations —which are currently at a standstill.

Councilman Chris Jerram introduced the resolution to remove Mayor Jim Suttle from contract negotiations with labor unions. (Photo credit Nebraska Watchdog).

“It appears we’ve reached an impasse, and by the passage of this resolution, we the council will ensure that labor negotiations for the city of Omaha will continue,” said Councilman Thomas Mulligan.

Councilman Franklin Thompson tried unsuccessfully to stall the vote for a couple weeks, so absent council members would have a chance to vote. Councilman Ben Gray was attending a funeral and Councilman Garry Gernandt was recovering from surgery. Also, Thompson argued, seven negotiators may not make the process any smoother.

“I do want to remind this council that one of the reasons why they did give the power up is because it was a difficult process for seven people to do,” said Thompson.

But despite his earlier hesitation, he was still supportive of the measure, saying this vote will strike balance into negotiations. “If you take a look at the last ten to twelve years, and you take a look at the final product of negotiations, you always got the impression it was sort of a 30-70 balance, that it was 70 percent in favor of unions and only 30 percent for taxpayers. And you kept waiting for the 50/50 thing, and you wanted to give the mayor a try, not only this mayor but the previous mayor, and boy, it just seemed like it never got there.”

The Council will now be in charge of keeping the Fire Union and the city of Omaha out of labor court and on the path to an agreement.

The original contract agreed to by Mayor Suttle and the Fire Union failed to pass as amended two weeks ago, but the council voted to place the original contract “on file,” meaning it could be voted on again at a later date. The Fire Union has been adamant that the original agreement should be passed as-is.

Councilwoman Jean Stothert said, “I think it makes perfect sense at this time to place it on file, and if at a later date, we want to bring it back, if the union is more open to negotiation, then that can be done.”

After the meeting, Councilman Chris Jerram said negotiations are best handled at the table and “not in the media” and added what he and the council is doing “is in the best interest of the taxpayers.”

“I’m not going to take anything off the table, other than hope today that everyone realizes that we want people back at the table to discuss those things,” Jerram said.

A statement released by the Mayor’s office said, “If the City Council thinks they can do a better job they should be given the opportunity to do so.” It goes on to say, “We can only hope the Council’s decision does not jeopardize the significant financial concessions negotiated by the parties or risk the City’s AAA bond rating.”

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