Mayor Jean Stothert's new cost-cutting offer for the Omaha Fire Department would provide two years of relief from layoffs — but would force the fire union to give up layoff protection for all firefighters in the future.
The latest move in a months-long budget battle extended the clock for negotiations between the city and the union, which had been set to expire Friday at noon.
But it didn't provide a quick solution to the stalemate that could end with 19 firefighters out of a job. The layoffs are effective Jan. 4.
Stothert now says she will rescind layoff notices issued earlier this week if the department agrees to drop next year's paramedic training program from 48 to nine people. In exchange, the mayor would agree to no layoffs in 2014 and 2015.
Earlier deals the mayor offered allowed for training 12 paramedics, and promised no layoffs in 2014 or 2015, so long as the department kept within its budget next year.
The new proposal doesn't come with any caveats about staying within the department's budget. But it has one major addition that's unlikely to be an easy sell for the fire union: Starting in 2016, the city would have “unrestricted discretion” over Fire Department staffing, including the right to lay off firefighters.
Stothert said Friday that the deal answers union requests to grant equal layoff protection to both the 47 firefighters hired this year and the more than 600 other firefighters who can't be laid off under the terms of the current labor agreement.
“We said: 'All right, we will make you all the same, you won't be any different,' ” Stothert said. “All of you will have layoff protection in (2014 and 2015.) But nobody, no one, is going to get it now for the life of the agreement.”
The current labor contract between the city and the fire union expires at the end of 2014.
Stothert said her offer to extend layoff protections beyond the life of that contract is an “unprecedented” move that has not been offered to Omaha police or other city departments.
The union would be able to negotiate again for layoff protections beyond 2015, but there would be no guarantee that would succeed. If the two parties can't reach an agreement on a new contract, the current contract could be in place for an extended period of time.
The city's previous contract was in place for almost a decade.
Union President Steve LeClair said Friday afternoon that his group did not expect to resume discussions with the city until Monday.
He said he remains committed to the goals he discussed in a press conference earlier Friday, when he was joined by dozens of firefighters and some of the 19 people who have received pink slips. He told the stories of a handful of those firefighters, including an Iraq War veteran and others who are parents of young children.
The union agrees to the city's request to trim paramedic training — in fact, the union offered up the smaller class size of nine people — but remains committed to pushing for equal layoff protection for all firefighters.
LeClair declined to discuss specifics about the mayor's latest proposal.
“We're really trying hard here,” he said. “I don't want to bias the process in any way, and I want the (union) executive board to have every opportunity outside of the media to consider it.”
The mayor did not attach a deadline to her offer but said she expects a quick response.
“I'm not going to dilly-dally around with them until Jan. 4,” she said. “I'm not going to do that.”