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Dispute between firefighters, city may go to voters

Updated:
BARTLESVILLE, Okla. (AP) _ A simmering contract dispute between Bartlesville firefighters and the city may have to be settled by voters.

The city council is scheduled to meet Wednesday to consider calling a special election to decide contract issues between the city and the International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 200.

Negotiations began last spring and the dispute was submitted to an independent arbitrator last month. The arbitrator ruled in favor of the union's requests.

Billy Hubbard, a Bartlesville firefighter and president of the Professional Firefighters of Oklahoma, said the issues concern longevity pay and sick leave buyback upon retirement.

Under the existing longevity pay policy, Bartlesville firefighters receive a maximum of $2.50 per month for every year worked. The union has requested the amount be increased to $7.27 per month for every year worked.

Under the proposal, a Bartlesville firefighter who has worked with the department for five years would receive $36.35 per month in longevity pay.

Under current sick leave rules, firefighters must have accumulated 1,440 hours of sick leave upon retirement before any benefit is received under the sick leave buyback agreement. After that, retiring firefighters receive 10 percent in pay for accumulated hours amounting to more than 1,440 up to 2,880 hours.

In other words, the maximum amount a retiring firefighter may receive in sick leave buyback benefits is pay for 144 hours, Hubbard said.

The union has requested that benefits be increased to 25 percent of pay for all accumulated sick leave hours upon retirement. The proposed increases are based on averages from cities of comparable size to Bartlesville, Hubbard said.

``The parties had agreed on the cities that we would use, but it appears that (city officials) don't want Bartlesville firefighters to make the average of what firefighters in those comparable cities make in longevity and sick leave buyback benefits,'' he said.

City Manager Steve Brown declined comment on specifics of the proposed contract.

Mike Gann, president of the Bartlesville Professional Firefighters Association, Local 200, said he is disappointed that the city is requesting the council reject the arbitration award.

``We felt it was more than fair,'' Gann said.

If the resolution is approved by the council on Wednesday, a special election will be held Feb. 12, Brown said.
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