Hammond firefighters drop charges against councilman, contract negotiations to proceed

2012-10-18T19:15:00Z 2012-10-18T22:42:04Z Hammond firefighters drop charges against councilman, contract negotiations to proceedBy Chelsea Schneider Kirk chelsea.schneider@nwi.com, (219) 933-3241 nwitimes.com

HAMMOND | Contract negotiations with Hammond firefighters are back on after the union dropped charges against a city councilman, Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. confirmed Thursday.

McDermott had held off on negotiating with Hammond Professional Firefighters Association Local 556, saying he saw the charges as the union trying to intimidate City Council President Michael Opinker.

“I thought it was intimidation and trying to intimidate an elected official. Obviously, I'm happy they dropped the charges,” McDermott said.

The union filed charges within its labor organization against Opinker, a Local 556 member and the department's chief fire inspector, following his City Council vote in favor of a controversial overhaul of the health insurance coverage offered to city employees.

Local 556 President Ed Lomeli confirmed the charges were dropped and said the union was extending an “olive branch” to begin negotiations.

“We're both trying to step forward in the right direction instead of arguing about who is doing what,” Lomeli said. “We want to move forward.”

The thaw comes days before the Hammond City Council is set to vote Monday on salaries for 2013.

Under the city's initial proposal, firefighters were seeing a flat $250 raise, less than the 1 percent raise other city employees will likely see next year.

Now that the union has dropped the charges, McDermott said the city will budget 1 percent raises for firefighters in the salary proposal coming before the council on Monday. However, McDermott said he can lower the proposed raise if talks don't proceed well.

“We thought that was the best course of action,” McDermott said.

Hammond police officers and public works employees represented by Teamsters Local 142 have agreed to one-year contracts that provide for 1 percent raises.

Opinker said the union gave him a letter Thursday indicating the charges were dropped.

“I wish I had gotten it awhile ago,” Opinker said. “It is what it is. I finally got it.”

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