River Forest board approves 3-year fire contract

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After taking over three and a half hours to sort through their regular agenda Monday night, the River Forest Village Board took less than a minute to unanimously approve a new three year contract with its 15 non-supervisory firefighters. The OK echoed the earlier unanimous ratification of the contract by the 15 rank and file members of Local 2391 of the International Association of Fire Fighters. The contract terms are retroactive to May 1, 2004.

According to spokesmen for both sides, the contract negotiations, which took place over 12 months, were drawn out but not acrimonious.

"They went along fine," said firefighter Bob Bentel. "It was long, but went fairly smoothly."

"There were no blow ups," said fellow firefighter Kurt Bohlman, who stood outside the council chambers with Bentel as the village board discussed the contract in executive session. "We like some of it. We dislike other parts," said Bentel, who called the contract "a fair agreement."

Village staff concurred. Calling the agreement a good one, Village Administrator Charles Biondo referred to an old axiom about negotiations, saying, "A good agreement is when both sides go away unhappy."

Village President Frank Paris said he for one was quite happy with the outcome, saying "I think it's a great agreement."  Paris also praised the village's firefighters, saying "We have a great fire department. We're glad to pay it."

In what Bentel called a "a give and take process" firefighters agreed to a 4.25 percent increase per year over the previous contract, which expired last April 30. They give up some ground on health care costs however.

Personnel covered by the pact will see starting salaries increase from $39,141 for those with less than one year of service as of May, 2004, with a high of $62,970 for those with more than four years of service. Starting in May, 2006, those figures increase to $42,538 in the first year, to $68,436 after four years.

The union gave somewhat on health costs. Firefighters will now pay a 10 percent co-pay on in network PPO medical treatments. Using a non network provider will require a 30 percent co-payment. The village will pay 85 per cent of the premiums for health and dental coverage.

 "The health care helped cut costs to the village," said Paris.

Another key issues, said Bentel, was drug testing. While there had previously been no drug testing for firefighters, the issue was already addressed in the village's personnel manual.

"It was a policy suggestion," said Fire Chief Jim Eggert. "We just wanted to get on top of it."

Bentel said the union supported drug testing, but simply wanted to protect firefighter's rights

"The union's for having drug testing," he said, "But we wanted safeguards for our jobs.

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