East Pierce Fire avoids firefighter layoffs, reaches agreement with union

East Pierce Fire & Rescue reached an agreement with the firefighters union this week that will save a majority of the jobs that were to be eliminated next month.

Fire district officials and IAFF Local 3520 agreed to preliminary concessions Monday, and commissioners unanimously approved the deal at a special meeting Tuesday. The union will likely vote on the deal next week.

The agreement would save East Pierce Fire $1.5 million and avoid layoffs of four career firefighters, said Fire Chief Jerry Thorson.

Less than a week ago, the fire district issued layoff notices to six firefighters and a secretary, sparking anger from union officials who said the layoffs would hamper an already understaffed fire district.

The agreement saves most of those jobs, but includes a drop in minimum daily staffing — from 23 to 21 — and delays cost-of-living increases for all employees. An assistant chief position will remain vacant through 2015, and two volunteer firefighters who were temporarily hired to save money on overtime will revert to volunteer status next month, cutting their terms short.

A secretary will still be laid off, and an IT staff member will transition to part time.

The secretary and temporary firefighter positions weren’t part of union negotiations, said union president Mike Westland.

“The loss of employment for anyone is upsetting,” he said Tuesday.

The proposed layoffs had been part of the fire district’s plan for “drastic cuts” following a failed levy in the November election.

Cuts that had been planned included reductions in overtime and daily staffing, elimination of special-event staffing, deferred purchase of equipment, a freeze on filling vacant firefighter positions, suspension of volunteer recruitment, and reduced maintenance of stations, fire engines and medic units.

“The department’s been through five or six really hard years,” Thorson said Tuesday. “This is a point when we have to draw together and preserve the organization.”

Westland said the union is pleased with the outcome, noting that there are never “good answers” when budget cuts have to be made.

“I feel it is a good deal for everyone involved,” he said. “It gets the district where they need to be to balance the budget for 2015 and save jobs.”

Thorson said he can breathe easy thanks to the compromise.

“I think both parties came toward the center,” he said.

Fire commissioners approved a $23.7 million budget at a special meeting earlier this month, despite ongoing negotiations with the union. Thorson has said that budget will likely be amended closer to $22 million after the deal is finalized with the union.

East Pierce Fire serves more than 88,000 residents in and around Bonney Lake, Sumner, Edgewood, Milton, South Prairie and Lake Tapps. It has six staffed fire stations and five volunteer stations.