Cumberland Times-News

Local News

January 15, 2014

Police union takes stand on dispute between city, firefighters

CUMBERLAND — The president of the union representing Cumberland City Police officers made it very clear Tuesday that he’s not happy with the position taken by the city firefighters in a dispute with the city. The fight is slowing a change in health insurance coverage for many city employees.

Gino Renne said the proposed new insurance plan would benefit police officers. Renne is president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1994, which represents city police.

The police union “absolutely supports that (health insurance) initiative. It will bring financial relief to our members. ... Our union in no way supports what they are doing,” Renne told the Cumberland Mayor and City Council members during the comment period of Tuesday’s council meeting at City Hall. Renne said the firefighters union is “misguided, and our members are suffering because of that.” Without the firefighters on board, the city cannot make the health care change immediately.

The firefighters are represented by the International Association of Firefighters Local 1715, with about 60 members in the bargaining unit. In the dispute, which has lasted for months, firefighter leaders have said have said they want savings from the health insurance contract to hire firefighters to keep staffing at safe levels.

The primary issue on the table is the desire of the city to switch health care packages from Blue Cross Blue Shield to CIGNA. According to city officials, the change will allow employees a broader choice of doctors at a lower premium. The change would save the city “several hundred thousands of dollars” if made for all city employees, Rhodes said, and that would mean lower premiums for employees. City officials project a savings of about $400,000 annually by making the switch.

That health care change has already been accepted by the United Food and Commercial Workers and the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, which represents city public works and clerical employees.

Renne said he wanted to clear up any misunderstanding in the minds of the public or city officials where the police union stands. In this case, union solidarity isn’t the issue, Renne said. There are more than 40 police officers in the bargaining unit.

The dispute between the city and IAFF Local 1715 is now in Allegany County Circuit Court, with a trial date scheduled in May. The suit for an injunction is not seeking monetary damages, but only to require the city to enter negotiations over the use of funds the city would save by switching the insurance, union officials have said. The last contract with firefighters expired in 2011, but included a renewal clause.

 While the issues between the city and firefighters continue to develop in court, not all hope for negotiations is lost, said City Administrator Jeff Rhodes Wednesday. The city has asked to begin negotiations on a new contract and firefighters have agreed, Rhodes said. The city and union have agreed to ground rules for negotiations and dates to sit down for meetings are being considered, Rhodes said.

Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at mbieniek@times-news.com.

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