Fire union agrees to pay employee share of WRS benefits
New bargaining agreement changes hours, increases wages
Menomonee Falls — The Menomonee Falls Fire Department union agreed to pay an employee share of the Wisconsin Retirement System benefit, according to a new collective bargaining agreement approved by the Village Board on Monday.
The International Association of Fire Fighters Local 3879 on Aug. 12 ratified the agreement that affects employee pay, retirement contributions and work day schedule. Effective Jan. 1, 2014, the WRS employee share will be 7.2 percent of wages, so each of the nine members will contribute based on their wage level. That will be approximately $4,000 to $5,000 per person, according to Village Manager Mark Fitzgerald.
When Act 10 went into effect two years ago, police and fire did not face any changes to their collective bargaining powers. Despite this, the union decided to align with all other nonrepresented village employees by following their health insurance plan design, as well as pay the full cost of the employee share of the WRS, Fitzgerald said.
"That means they will be taking on by contract that which Act 10 essentially gave them rights to avoid so our Fire Department now will be very much like the other nonrepresented employees in the village," he said.
Village President Randy Newman commended the union for their willingness to bring equality to village staff.
The three-year agreement also changes the Fire Department employees' hours. Beginning Jan. 1, 2014, they will move to a 24-hour work day schedule, however, Fitzgerald said it's not the typical 24 hours working, with 48 hours off work.
Full-time employees will work three, 24-hour shifts with 24-hour breaks in between, followed by having four days off. They receive an additional eight days off throughout the year that are placed into a "leap schedule," which limits their hours to 53 hours on average per week.
Newman said a benefit to switching to the new schedule is that more senior and experienced firefighters will be on duty 24 hours a day.
In 1999 the village moved from a paid-on-call fire department to a full-time firefighter system. This put experienced firefighters on shifts during the daytime hours and part-time and volunteer firefighters staffed the fire stations at night. Now that the village continues to grow, Fitzgerald said they want to have the experienced firefighters during the day and evening hours.
"We want to take that skill of the day time/full-timers and move them throughout a 24-hour shift so that they can augment the skill level at night and this is helping us to do that," he said. "We think that's a critical circumstance."
Wages, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2013, will increase by 1 percent. Employees will receive a 1.5 percent wage increase in 2014 and a 2.5 percent increase in 2015.
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