EAST PEORIA — At the almost-end of a crooked, pot-holed and obstacle-laden parliamentary path, the city and its firefighter's union have arrived at an agreement on a five-year contract.
Nothing's perfect, but (the contract) is fair," Mayor John Kahl said Tuesday night. "I'm glad to put this to rest and move on to other things."
The council approved the contract on a 4-0 vote Tuesday with only one of the five members of the city council voting the same way he did when it first came up more than two months ago. The process stalled last month when Commissioner Mike Sutherland challenged Commissioner Dan Decker's legal right to vote on a firefighter contract because he is an assistant chief on the East Peoria Fire Department. Without Decker's vote there was no consensus on the council and the issue appeared to be headed to arbitration.
So, the council tabled a vote and agreed to pay about $3,000 to a Chicago law firm that specializes in municipal law to render an opinion on Decker's legal rights. As an assistant chief, Decker is no longer a member of the firefighter's union. The opinion came back as inconclusive as the city attorney's own researched opinion that the issue had never been challenged in an Illinois courtroom and that it was not settled law.
Commissioner Seth Mingus, who represented the city in the contract negotiations, went back to the drawing board. He worked out a compromise with union president Bobby Zimmerman that bumped up a first-year pay raise by 0.25 percent and eliminated a sick-time payback provision that was the hold-up for Kahl's vote of support.
Mingus and Hill voted to approve the contract. Kahl changed his vote to "yes." And, Sutherland abandoned his opposition to the contract because it didn't include a city residency requirement and joined the majority. Decker, in the end, abstained.
4-0, motion passed.
"Commissioner Mingus worked his tail off to get this compromise," union president Bobby Zimmerman said Tuesday. "All the other stuff is water under the bridge and a brighter day is ahead."
Because of all the parliamentary maneuvering, Tuesday's vote regressed to a new first reading of the contract due to the changes. Final approval is expected in two weeks.
The contract provides salary increases of 1.75 percent the first year; 1.75 percent in years two and three; 2 percent in the fourth year; and 2.25 percent in 2024. It is retroactive to May 1, 2019, the date the previous contract expired. That makes the average annual salary increase over the course of the contract 1.9 percent or slightly higher than the 1.75 percent increase given to other public employees in the city.
Scott Hilyard can be reached at 686-3244 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @scotthilyard on Twitter.