City and union officials continue negotiations as deadline nears

Contract negotiators for the Memphis Fire Fighters Union and the City started Friday like many others... miles apart.

"I'd like to tell you that there were just a few issues," said Thoman Malone, Chief Union Negotiator. "We have the whole contract to resolve.  We've got the whole contract that we've done nothing with."

After five weeks of negotiations, and just hours before a city ordinance-imposed deadline to complete them, all issues regarding money --pay, benefits, everything-- remained on the table and unsettled.

"Every time we've proposed something, we feel like they haven't even considered it," Malone said.

While both side worked to hammer out an agreement, one very real consideration was how any deal would affect taxpayers footing the bill in the midst of a citywide budget crunch.

"If they start cutting things the level of service that the citizens of Memphis have come to expect will be lowered," said firefighter Billy Freeman.

Union leaders said they recognize maintaining that level of service isn't cheap, but said their members have expectations, too.

"We've proposed an increase in our rates, but we've also proposed some other things to help pay for it," Malone said. "We're not advocating a tax increase.  We pay taxes ourselves."

For now, it's back to the bargaining table, where the only thing both sides seem to agree on is there is a lot left to do and not a whole lot of time in which to do it.

According to officials within Mayor Herenton's office, Human Resources Director Dr. Lorene Essex is the city's point person for these negotiations.  Calls made to her office by Action News 5 on Friday were not returned by the deadline for this story.

Firefighters were not the only Memphis Union in negotiations Friday.  The city is working to hammer out agreements with 14 other unions by midnight.
That means representatives for other agencies will work through the night too.

"Working people look around this city they see buildings going up, housing going up and that kind of thing," said AFSCME Director Dorothy Cook. "They can't afford those things based on the salary that they get, and yet nobody in City Hall wants to go out and pick up any garbage."

Stay with Action News 5 and for the very latest on contract negotiations.