Hammond, firefighters union reach tentative agreement on contract

2013-01-02T19:00:00Z 2013-01-02T22:32:04Z Hammond, firefighters union reach tentative agreement on contractChelsea Schneider Kirk chelsea.schneider@nwi.com, (219) 933-3241 nwitimes.com

HAMMOND | The city and the Hammond firefighters union have reached a tentative agreement on a one-year contract that gives a 1 percent raise but would cut daily staffing requirements.

Hammond Professional Firefighters Association Local 556 members will meet on Jan. 15 and 16 to learn about and possibly vote on the new contract, said Ed Lomeli, union president.

The contract would reduce daily staffing requirements from a minimum of 40 to 37 firefighters. Lomeli said the cuts could lead the department to take a fire engine or truck out of service or decrease the staffing on specific truck companies.

“We really don't like to reduce,” Lomeli said. “We're not excited about it. Obviously it's a safety issue. We are willing to work with the mayor for one year on this and hopefully get this back after one year.”

City officials said reducing daily staffing requirements will save on overtime costs in the department.

An independent review of the department commissioned by the city found Hammond firefighters earn higher salaries and receive more vacation time and overtime pay than their colleagues at five other departments across the state.

The report by Waggoner, Irwin, Scheele and Associates recommended the city shut down the rig that operates out of Fire Station No. 5 at Hohman Avenue and Wildwood Road.

Tom Dabertin, chief of staff for Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr., confirmed a tentative agreement was reached and said while it may require the fire chief to reassign personnel and equipment, it does not close any fire stations.

“We are not making any decisions on closing any stations at this time,” Dabertin said.

“Despite the at times contentious process to get to the negotiations, we had a very professional and understanding meeting with representatives from the fire union,” McDermott was quoted in a statement. “We look forward to working with them in the future in developing a multiyear agreement starting next year.”

Talks over a new contract with Local 556 stalled in August after McDermott canceled the start of negotiations over charges the union had filed within the labor organization against a city councilman.

The union later dropped the charges against Hammond City Council President Michael Opinker, who is the chief fire inspector for the department. Negotiations then resumed.

The charges had surrounded Opinker's favorable vote on the city's health insurance overhaul, which in some cases will increase what employees pay for coverage. The union saw the vote as Opinker stepping in to negotiate on its behalf.

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