Chuck Turner interrupted a lovefest among other councilors, firefighters and the mayor's office this afternoon: As much as he admired the work firefighters and the administration did to finally come up with a contract, he could not vote for it without a guarantee councilors would press the mayor to stop the planned layoffs of hundreds of other city workers.
"You can bake cats, but that doesn't make them biscuits," he said.
Librarians, youth workers, custodians and teachers deserve jobs every bit as much as firefighters deserve wage increases for agreeing to drug testing, he said. He said it was unconscionable not to use city reserves to help out these workers every bit as much as firefighters, especially since many of them made financial sacrifices over the past couple of years to help save jobs.
Councilors John Tobin and Charles Yancey, among others, however, praised firefighters for risking their lives every day just by showing up for work.
The vote represents long hours of work by negotiators for the city and firefighters over the past week. Firefighters were without a contract for four years. In a settlement reached last night, the union and the city agreed to cut back a pay increase for drug testing from 2.5% to 1.5%, delay that for one year and give firefighters a 3.5% increase for the fiscal year that starts July 1. Also, new firefighters will get the 1.5% increase only on completion of an annual physical and fitness test.