The Orange County Fire Authority and its 725 full-time firefighters may reach agreement today on a 2 1/2-year contract that includes a slight pay raise, ending a two-year impasse that led to a sickout and public picketing.
Firefighters have been working for 615 days without a formal contract with the authority, which was formed in 1995 from the county and 19 city fire departments. The authority provides fire and paramedic services for about 1 million Orange County residents.
Animosity between the union and the Fire Authority, which has imposed past contracts unilaterally, ignited in recent months, capped by a sickout by 100 firefighters and a demonstration by several hundred placard-toting firefighters at Anaheim Stadium on Labor Day.
Voting on the new contract began Monday and continues until 1 p.m. today. The Fire Authority has scheduled an emergency session tonight at 6:30 to consider ratifying the contract, if it is approved by union membership.
"It's still kind of tenuous," union President Joe Kerr said Wednesday. "It's a pretty fair contract, and it's about the best we could hope to get. There has been a lot of blood in the soil on this one. The other issues we have with the authority, we'll work on on a case-by-case basis."
The proposed contract calls for a $1,449 "signing bonus" for each firefighter, in place of retroactive pay. In March, the authority will begin making all of the firefighters' retirement contributions, about 3% of their salaries. The contract also calls for 3% pay hikes in July, January 1999, and July 1999. In January 2000, firefighters will receive pay raises to bring them within the ranges of the county's three highest-paying departments. In addition, the union has agreed to drop a federal lawsuit filed against the county alleging civil rights violations during the firefighter picketing.