Redwood City has reached a tentative two-year contract agreement with its firefighters’ union that includes “modest” salary increases totaling 7 percent and also reduces the city’s retiree health costs.
The contract, which spans from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2023 and includes retroactive pay, was approved by City Council Monday night.
The agreement follows 14 months of negotiation with San Mateo County Firefighters International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2400 (IAFF) that centered on the city’s efforts to address its retiree health and pension unfunded liability, which currently stands at over $248 million, and also on the city’s ongoing recovery from the pandemic, during which it lost $82.3 million in operating revenue and received just $18.5 million in federal pandemic relief funds.
City Manager Melissa Stevenson-Diaz called the two-year contract with IAFF a “fair agreement that really helps us make progress on issues of concern to the fire union but also of longterm concern to the city, particularly around our retiree health benefits.”
Stevenson-Diaz said the hold up in negotiations involved, in part, concerns by the IAFF over the city’s hold on filling vacancies, which she said served to prevent layoffs but added stress in staffing levels. The city has since filled vacant positions and, with this agreement, “will be filling more positions while we work on some longer-term plans for service levels,” the city manager said.
The other big sticking point in negotiations involved retiree health benefits, according to Stevenson-Diaz. The city currently offers a unique benefit to public safety employees that provides those who retire due to a work-related illness or injury with lifetime medical coverage not just for themselves but also for their family. The benefit has been expensive for the city, amounting to $30 million in unfunded liability for police and fire, but is reformed under this tentative agreement, in part via the creation of a tiered system for employees hired after May 9, 2022, according to the city.
While the agreement reduces the city’s unfunded liability, firefighters are still offered “a comprehensive retiree health benefit,” city staff state.
“I’m really pleased that with this agreement, we now have the same kind of reform for that kind of benefit that we’ve had with our pension side of things,” Stevenson-Diaz said. “Years ago, our bargaining groups agreed to pay more toward their pensions, and we started having tiers of benefits. That’s now what’s happening for the fire folks on the retiree health side of things. That’s a huge financial step forward for the city. It’s much appreciated, and it was not easy to come to that agreement.”