8:10 p.m. update:
Albuquerque city councilors unanimously approved the firefighter funding during tonight’s meeting.
Two city councilors are sponsoring bipartisan legislation that could help break the four-year stalemate in negotiations between the firefighters’ union and city administration.
The proposal, backed by councilors Dan Lewis and Ken Sanchez, would set aside $1.8 million in the city budget, enough to provide at least a 2.5 percent pay raise for firefighters. Lieutenants and drivers could receive 4.5 percent.
The raises would have to be negotiated as part of a new union contract. The city had previously set aside enough funding for 1 percent for all employees.
The fire union has been at odds with city management since 2010, when Mayor Richard Berry imposed a 2.5 percent pay cut on firefighters to help keep Albuquerque’s budget balanced amid the Great Recession. Other employee groups also faced cuts.
“This is going to restore a good chunk of those cuts,” Lewis said Sunday. “It’s a first step.”
Sanchez said the proposal is “critically important to the men and women who work in the Albuquerque Fire Department.”
Diego Arencón, president of the firefighters’ union, thanked councilors for considering the legislation.
He noted that firefighters had been due raises in 2010 under a multi-year contract, but their pay was cut. The pay raises had been negotiated under then-Mayor Martin Chávez’s administration in better economic times. Berry argued that the increases were always subject to the availability of funding in the city budget.
The union and city are still fighting in court over the old contract. But Arencón said firefighters still want to negotiate a new one.
“We have always been sympathetic to the economy in our negotiations proposals and remain committed to working with City Council and the Mayor’s Office to ensure adequate funding for AFD and its personnel,” he said Sunday in a written statement.
Lewis and Sanchez plan to ask other councilors for permission to take final action on the proposal tonight. Otherwise, it will be scheduled for a future meeting.
Sanchez, the council president, is a Democrat. Lewis is a Republican.
Approval of city funding for raises isn’t a guarantee that firefighters will get them. The council approved similar legislation for police in October, but a proposed union contract to put them in place was overwhelmingly rejected by officers last year.
Rob Perry, Albuquerque’s chief administrative officer, said the 2.5 percent increase is “reasonable and affordable.”
“Our support for the proposal requires that the union agree to use their own time and/or money to conduct union business and not city and taxpayer resources,” Perry said. He called the proposal a “good-faith attempt to put a salary increase into the hands of our employees while maintaining prudent expenditure of city funds during continuously challenging economic times.”