Firefighters agree to four-year contract

Marilyn Tennissen Feb. 6, 2008, 7:23am

After an appeals court overturned an arbitration decision late last year, the city of Beaumont and its local firefighters union finally came to an agreement Feb. 6 with the approval of a four-year contract.

Firefighters agreed to a 12 percent pay increase upon signing the new contract and a 5 percent pay raise in October 2008 and 2009 and a 4 percent pay increase in 2010 and 2011.

Firefighters have been working without a pay increase since 2004. An arbitration panel awarded firefighters a 29 percent pay increase over three years.

The city appealed that ruling but a former district court judge upheld the ruling.

In November, a three-judge appeals court panel ruled that the arbitration panel considered information that was outside their scope. The panel ruled that the city and firefighters would have to go back to the negotiating table.

In December the union and city sat down again but were unable to reach an agreement. The union proposed a 6 percent pay raise over three years, retroactive to 2005 and a 5 percent pay raise for 2008 and 2009. The city proposed a 5 percent pay raise for 2008 and 2009 without retroactive pay.

As reported by the Southeast Texas Record, in November 2007 the Texas Ninth District Court of Appeals reversed the award of three 9 percent raises to Local 399 of the International Association of Firefighters by arbitrator Zane Lumbley of Monroe, Wash.

Arbitration normally operates in isolation from litigation, but now the Ninth District has set a precedent for judicial review of arbitration awards.

Union attorney, John Werner of Beaumont, warned in May 2007 that wiping out the award would "spread a chilling effect on municipal labor negotiations throughout the state."

He wrote, "Without the finality and deference accorded to an arbitration award, the whole process is called into question and there will be a powerful temptation for dissatisfied parties to simply view the court system as a chance to seek a 'do over' if they do not like the results that they get the first time around."

The firefighters agreed not to appeal the court's decisions after a Nov. 13 union meeting and agreed to new arbitration.

The court ruled that Lumbley should have compared the local union's pay scale with firefighters in other Texas cities. Although Local 399's contract provides for comparison to other cities, Lumbley compared the pay of Beaumont firefighters to the pay of refinery firefighters.

Steve Korris contributed to this article.

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