Stalled: Talks between firefighters, city hit roadblock

harlingen-fire-patch

HARLINGEN — The local firefighters’ union and the city have reached a standstill.

After more than three months of trying to negotiate a new contract, the parties have hit a roadblock as they tried to agree on salary, benefits and staffing levels, Lt. Julio Zetina, president of the Harlingen Professional Firefighters Association said yesterday.

“We didn’t feel we were making any headway,” said Zetina, who represents about 110 firefighters. “It seems like it fell on deaf ears.”

In separate negotiations, the police officers’ union and the city also stand deadlocked as they tried to reach a new two-year contract.

The city’s contracts with the unions expired Oct. 1, but the contracts’ evergreen clauses will allow firefighters and police officers to continue to work for as long as a year under current terms and conditions.

Firefighters’ negotiations aimed at boosting manpower, Darrell Loftus, a battalion chief who serves as the union’s vice president, said.

Yesterday, Loftus said the union proposed adding nine firefighters to better staff a new substation being built on Stuart Place Road to serve the city’s growing west side.

“As the city expands, we felt the need for more personnel,” Zetina said. “We are concerned with the citizens’ safety.”

But City Manager Dan Serna said the fire department doesn’t need to boost manpower.

“We are fully staffed and able to respond to emergencies as necessary,” Serna said.

Serna said Fire Chief Rogelio Rubio plans to shift firefighters’ schedules to staff the new station without increasing manpower.

“We have enough staffing to staff the new fire station,” Serna said.

Zetina said negotiations focused on better benefits, including sick leave and emergency leave.

“We don’t want to go backwards with our benefits,” he said.

Zetina said the city refused the union’s proposal to allow firefighters to use their sick leave to care for their sick spouses and children.

The union also proposed an agreement under which firefighters would be allowed 72 hours a year of emergency leave to be taken in one-hour increments.

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