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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Lockport city officials and members of the fire department union have been privately discussing a retirement buyout option for firefighters, Mayor Anne McCaffrey confirmed Wednesday night.

"We do have discussions underway regarding that matter," McCaffrey said.

The retirement buyout plan is unconnected to the nine city positions that were eliminated by the Common Council at a special meeting held Wednesday at City Hall, but it is part of the same puzzle, McCaffrey said, with the goal of bringing the city budget in line.

While the mayor would offer no solid details, Local 963 President Kevin Pratt said that McCaffrey verbally offered a retirement incentive for up to five firefighters at a meeting held on Aug. 28. Pratt said that he wanted the offer in writing.

McCaffrey said Wednesday night that she had sent a letter to the union with an offer and was expecting to send a revised letter to the union soon.

"With my signature on it, it gives him something to bring to his membership," McCaffrey said.

Pratt said this afternoon that the original offer just wasn't good enough and he hopes the revised offer will deal with more of the union's concerns.

Pratt said the mayor's first offer, which he received on Friday, included incentive money, paid healthcare to age 65 for those who took the buyout. In return, the city asked the department's union to drop or waive all ongoing union grievances against the city.

"If she wants all those court action items to go away, the city and the union need to sit down and construct a whole new (collective bargaining agreement)," Pratt said.

The union has been working under a contract that expired Dec. 31, 2012. Under state law, that contract remains valid until a new one is agreed upon, despite the fact that it expired nearly two years ago. Pratt said the letter he received last week was the first offer made in writing since Nov. 2012.

Pratt had said there are men in the department who would likely be willing to take a buyout — if the city makes it financially viable for them. The original offer included up to $30,000 incentive to retire, paid over four to 10 years. The police department got that same $30,000 as a lump sum payment up front, he said.

He had hoped that as many as eight firefighters would be able to take the offer. The city is only offering five, however, he said, adding that if there weren't five who took it, he understands that as many as five more firefighters would be laid off in about two weeks.

There are currently three LFD firefighters laid off and hoping to return to the department. Pratt had hoped that if the city agreed to retirement incentives for eight men, the three that are laid off would be able to return.

"She made it clear that it's only going to be the five," he said. "They're not extending it any further than five."

Both sides referred to situation as an "ongoing negotiation."

If McCaffrey and union leadership can agree on language, any buyout incentive must be approved by union membership and the Common Council.

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