Coral Gables narrowly approves new deal with firefighters union
Image via Coral Gables Firefighters Association Local 1210.

Coral Gables Firefighters Local 1210
The new deal passed 3-2 and will provide city firefighters with significant raises through 2026.

After three years of contract negotiations that grew so deadlocked in January that the two parties went to arbitration, Coral Gables and a union representing its fire rescue personnel have struck a deal — with a stern warning from the Mayor.

Coral Gables Firefighters Association Local 1210, which represents 137 city firefighters, and the city agreed to new terms that include both retroactive and progressive salary increases.

Eighty-six percent of the union members voted for the new terms, which its president, David Perez, said will ensure the city can “recruit and retain the best talent” and continue providing “the high quality service (residents) have come to expect from our firefighters and paramedics.

The City Commission approved the deal Wednesday by a 3-2 vote.

The new contract includes across-the-board raises of 2%, retroactive to October 2021 and 2022; across-the-board wage hikes of 3.5%, effective in October 2023 and 2024; and 3% raises on Oct. 6, 2025.

There is also a “Step Pay Plan” to reward continued service through yearly pay increases, inclusive of mandatory 5% raises at the 10th, 15th and 20th year of service. Further, the deal includes a one-time payment of $550 per year of service up to 10 years.

Coral Gables also agreed to maintain staffing levels so at least 32 firefighters can be on duty daily. If the city expands or reduces its coverage area, that daily staffing level would be “increased or reduced accordingly.”

In cases of downsizing, Coral Gables agreed to let go of personnel on the basis of seniority, with no new people able to be hired until the recently terminated personnel are given an opportunity to return to work.

Mayor Vince Lago, who joined Vice Mayor Rhonda Anderson in voting against the measure, said the compounded raises given to the firefighters are fiscally irresponsible and ignore current economic trends.

He cited several news reports, including a March article in Fortune that asserted a recession in 2023 is “inevitable” as “layoffs and finance will spread to other sectors.” The city’s human resources director, Raquel Elejabarrieta, confirmed the contract contains the highest compounded rate of pay raises for firefighters in the last decade.

Lago advised caution, adding that when he was first elected to the City Commission in the early 2010s, he heard complaints from firefighters at the time who’d had their benefits cut due to the Great Recession.

“Just because you give a benefit, you may have to deal with that later, and the more that you give takes away from a litany of other things happening here in the city,” he said. “My point is simple: This is too rich for my blood. This is a situation where we have to be very careful.”

Ariel Fernandez, who voted yes alongside fellow Commissioners Melissa Castro and Kirk Menendez, said he’d take the advice of Elejabarrieta and city staff, who recommended the city approve the new terms.

He argued there was a logical disconnect in denying the Coral Gables firefighters a long-sought compensation upgrade while the city is considering revenue reductions elsewhere and giving raises to other staff.

“We hear winter is coming. We hear a recession is coming,” he said. “And yet the Mayor is talking about cutting the millage rate and putting our city in very tough financial straits for the future.”

Around mid-January, Local 1210 leaders declared an impasse in contract talks with Coral Gables administrators, complaining they had not received “any tangible offers” to address the city’s recent growth and further expansion expected in the next several years.

The group noted several developments in the city it believed merited more favorable agreements. They included some 30 construction projects then in development, and a passel of high-rise towers built in recent years. Over the past five years that has resulted in a 14% increase in call volume, prompting Perez to request more fire rescue staff to handle added demands.

There’s also a trio of annexations the city has planned.

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • Sonja Fitch

    September 15, 2023 at 4:53 am

    Damn!!! At first glance this is a damn good deal! We have to have our First Responders! We owe them the best we can do financially and job security! Common Good!

Comments are closed.


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