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Firefighters Finally See Pay Increase From City

Ald. Austin, Ald. Burke
Ald. Carrie Austin (left) and Ald. Ed Burke (right) preside over a meeting at City Hall, Feb 7, 2011. Photo by Tyler Davis.

After fours years of negotiations between the city of Chicago and the Chicago Firefighters Union, a City Council committee approved a contract Monday that will give firefighters a 10 percent pay increase over the next four years.

The committee also approved a wavier for business owners who replace their exit signs with LED designs.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the Firefighters Union originally asked for a 26 percent pay increase over four years.

In addition to the pay increase, firefighters will also gain an increase in cross-training pay and will be paid for military leaves of absence if called into duty.

“Chicago was one of the first cities in the nation to pay the personnel activated for military service a differential between the military pay and the city pay,” Ald. Edward Burke (14th Ward) said.

He added that government entities all over the nation now offer the differential.

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th Ward) said the contract was straightforward.

“It’s the same contract as the police received,” she said.

Chicago also approved a 10 percent pay increase for police officers last spring.

Under the contract, firefighters will be given back pay from July 2007 until June 2012. Ald. Tom Tunney (44th Ward) questioned how much the settlement would cost and how the city would afford the back pay to the firefighters.

Deputy Budget Director Jonathon Johnson said it will cost $94 million and that the city would fund the payments through a bond. Each firefighter will receive $5,000 to $8,000 in retroactive pay.

According to the Sun-Times, the contract also calls for five employees on every piece of fire apparatus. The city is currently allowed to dip below that requirement 30 times a day. Under the new contract, that number would rise to 35 times a day. In addition, firefighters who go home sick during their shift would not be replaced under the new contract.

The full Chicago City Council is expected to approve the contract on Wednesday.

The committee also unanimously approved a proposal that would give a waiver to businesses that invest in new LED exit sign lights.

Ellen Shepard, executive director of the Andersonville Chamber of Commerce, said the LED-operated exit signs would save energy and be more cost efficient. She urged businesses all over the city to make the change. The amount of carbon dioxide that the lights will save is equivalent to taking 36 cars off the road and saving 44 acres of forest every year, Shepard said.

Paige Finnegan, chief operating officer of e-One, which manufactures LED products, said LED signs are better for the environment than the incandescent ones.

“Users will have to pay only the one-time, flat rate for our services,” Finnegan said.

She also said that business owners will get a rebate after a year, but will see a return from the original cost after 10 months.

Ellen Shepard said that businesses would also save on their electric bills by using the LED exit signs. “A normal light takes 40 watts, but the LED lights will take 4.1 watts,” she said.

Shepard said she hopes Andersonville’s small businesses will use 200 LED exit signs.

“For the Chicago area, 2 million signs total will be needed,” she said. She also said the production of the lights will lead to the creation of more green jobs in Chicago.

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