Norman Voters Will Likely Decide Contract Dispute Between City, Firefighters

Tuesday, March 8th 2011, 4:19 pm
By: News 9

Gan Matthews and Dana Hertneky, News 9

NORMAN, Oklahoma -- The Norman City Council decided Tuesday to move toward submitting a labor dispute to voters, which is something the council has never done before.

The council voted 6-1 to let a judge approve ballot language on the measure. The council will then vote one more time to put the issue up for voters in a special election which would happen on June 14.

An arbitrator ruled last year in favor of the Norman Firefighters Local Union after the city and union failed to agree on a contract. The city said it could not agree to one condition in particular in the firefighters' contract that the arbitrator approved.

"The real sticking issue is the merit raises," said Norman Budget Director Anthony Francisco.

The firefighters wanted merit raises of four percent, but the city is actually trying to cut wages.

"They want a 4.6 percent decrease. They want to take $3,000 from every firefighter," said Butch Crawford, IAFF Local 2067 President.

Francisco added personnel costs dominate the budget, and the city can ill afford any more.

The two sides are also divided over a furlough day proposal.

The firefighters' union said sales tax collections have been rising, making it easier for the city to fund the raises.

And while the firefighters' union believes that an election is a mistake, they are ready for it.

"I think the people appreciate the job that we do. We do a good job. I think if we take it to a vote of the people, the firefighters will prevail," said Crawford.