McAlester Voters Set To Decide Fate Of Firefighters' Contract

Wednesday, June 20th 2012, 7:54 pm
By: News On 6

Voters in McAlester will be deciding how much money their firefighters make next year.

The city and the firefighters union have been fighting over a contract for the past two years.

Voters get to make the decision.

Voters will go to the polls on Tuesday to decide between the city's latest offer or the union's latest offer.

"It just becomes a matter of economics, it's how much can we afford," McAlester Mayor Steve Harrison said.

Harrison said the city surveyed 17 similar-sized cities in Oklahoma and discovered McAlester is paying its firefighters well above the average.

The city's proposal is a 7 percent decrease from the firefighters' last contract.

"We have a limited budget as every city does, and we have more needs than we have money to fund those needs. So if we pay more than average in one area then we're going to have less than average in other areas," Harrison said.

Firefighters Union spokesman Jed Green said, "Ultimately this election is about service."

Green said the city's proposal would increase overtime for firefighters and take away reimbursement for training.

The firefighter's proposal is less than 1 percent lower than the previous contract.

"You have come-and-go politicians and bureaucrats who are attempting to push a political agenda and our holding the city of McAlester's fire and medical services hostage," Green said.

It's rare for the public to vote on a contract like this, and it's only happening here because last fall an arbitrator decided on the firefighter's behalf, which left the city the option to put it before a vote of the people.

Harrison says if the firefighters proposal is passed, it will cost the city $200,000 in back pay for last year's contract, then another $200,000 for next fiscal year.

He says the money would most likely come out of the budget to repair city streets.

But Green says the city has already spent thousands of dollars in court fighting to force a contract on the union.

In the end, voters will make the decision and decide if the firefighters' contract stays nearly as is or goes down by 7 percent.

"I think it's going to be a close election," Harrison said. "It is very divisive and I think we'll all be glad when it's over no matter the outcome."