JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Mayor John Peyton next week will outline his proposed budget for the city - knowing he has at least one city labor union willing to make concessions in pay.
Last year, the city had no success in getting employee unions to support a 3 percent pay cut. But on Friday, local firefighters agreed to take a 2 percent cut, followed by a pay freeze for two years.
The city's other biggest union representing police is negotiating, but has not accepted a pay cut. "We are trying to make this thing work with the city," said Fraternal Order of Police President Nelson Cuba.
"We are looking at a two-year contract; we are not asking for a pay raise. All we are asking for is let's look at the numbers."
Jacksonville City Council President Jack Webb is encouraged by concessions made by firefighters, but added he has no way of knowing what other city unions may decide to do.
"At the end of the day, whether we balance the budget through union concessions or not, we are going to have to balance the budget," said Webb.
The city has a target of getting $20 million in pay concessions from six unions that represent a majority of city employees. The unions are still talking to the city but also are involved in mediation that ultimately could result in the city council having the final say on employee contracts.
Jacksonville Mayor Peyton is scheduled to make his budget presentation to the City Council July 14. The meeting at city hall is open to the public.
From marital to employment issues, attorney and certified mediator Suzanne Bass has stepped in to be the ear of reason and give that extra push for parties to come to an end result.
"The mediator encourages settlement and does everything in their power to get the powers to agree," said Bass.
She said getting to that point can be tense. "It's not unusual for tempers to flare, have name calling, for emotions to erupt," said Bass.
The union negotiating process that followed proposed city budget cuts has gone public in Jacksonville.
The Fraternal Order of Police has sponsored billboards reading "Under Fire Daily" to bring attention to the dangers of their jobs, but also to make a public statement about possible pay and insurance reductions.
The Firefighter's Union also has been vocal publicly in its opposition to city government cuts to member pay and positions.
"There are really no dos and don'ts when it comes to willing people who are trying to mediate a situation," said Bass.
Bass said it's not unusual for either side to use tactics to get public support for their cause. "You write letters to the editor, speak to groups, all those things," she said.
It's also very common for both sides to be unwilling to budge. That's when Bass' job becomes that much more important.
"Sometimes a mediator's biggest challenge is to just keep people talking," said Bass.
First Coast News