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Baltimore firefighters reach compromise with city on hours, pay

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

Two Baltimore Fire Department unions reached a compromise with the mayor's office Tuesday that will require them to work more hours but will significantly boost their pay.

The agreement is expected to save the city about $72 million over nine years, with about 140 positions eliminated through attrition. Meanwhile, firefighters will get a 16.5 percent pay raise and be required to work an average of 47.5 hours each week rather than 42.

"We're excited for a new change," said John Burke, secretary-treasurer of the union that represents city firefighters. "In my 22-year career, this is the largest increase in salary that I've had. I feel personally that it was a good deal."

The mayor's office had been locked in negotiations with the Fire Department unions for months, and in March, the firefighters rejected a proposal that would have required them to work 49 hours per week in exchange for a 12.5 percent raise.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she was pleased with the compromise.

"This new contract — with a new schedule and significantly increased pay — will allow our Fire Department to maintain its high standard of emergency services for our city." Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. "I am appreciative that the members of the department acknowledge the importance of long-term fiscal stability for our city."

Both unions agreed upon the new schedule by overwhelming margins.

The city's firefighters currently work two 10-hour day shifts, followed by two 14-hour night shifts, then get four days off — an average of 42 hours a week. Under a new schedule chosen by firefighters, they will work two 24-hour shifts over three days, followed by five days off.

For a firefighter with 10 years' experience making $55,000 annually, the new three-year contract will boost wags to more than $64,000.

City officials sought to require firefighters to work more hours as part of a larger plan to reduce a projected $750 million shortfall over the next 10 years.

The firefighters' new schedule, dubbed the "Houston schedule," is similar to the workweek required in that city and in others. Among the 25 largest U.S. cities, 19 fire departments require longer work weeks than Baltimore does now.

"The officers in suppression are finally getting the raise they deserve." Michael Campbell, president of the fire officers union, said in a statement. "It has been a long time coming."

Under the agreement, paramedics, whose jobs are typically busier, will not be required to work longer hours and will get a 6 percent pay raise.

The agreement states that no firefighters could be laid off or demoted under the new schedule.

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this report.

cwells@baltsun.com

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