Point Austin: Beside the Point

Where there's smoke

Point Austin
The city and the firefighters union negotiating team agree on one thing – they're about $4 million apart on a new contract (in Samsung units, that's known as a one-fifteenth Samsung). The union told the council two weeks ago that while they had compromised throughout, city negotiators had not budged on anything, especially money. The explicit dispute rests to some degree on "market comparisons" – according to the firefighters, their overall salary structure compares poorly to other Texas cities, while city staff insists that the "average" firefighter salary (a number that lumps together the highest and lowest paid) is among the highest in the state.

In an attempt to break the deadlock, Council Members Brewster McCracken and Lee Leffingwell have proposed bringing in a third party – a major accounting firm – to do an independent study and presumably provide numbers that might satisfy both sides. Leffingwell says both parties appear willing to consider that option, and he believes it could be done quickly enough – "We're talking about just a one-page summary" – to contribute to negotiations without derailing the city's budget review process. "We're not doing the final votes until September 12 to 14," Leffingwell said, "so we should be able to do this without interrupting the process." He added that he believed the council is open to considering higher pay raises for lower job grades, something the union has been proposing.

This week's 2pm budget briefing covers Austin Energy, solid waste services, and the water utility, with public comment scheduled for 6pm.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Austin City Council, Austin Association of Professional Fire Fighters, firefighters union, Brewster McCracken, Lee Leffingwell

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