Hollywood, FL Local 1375 is relishing a hard-fought victory eight years after city officials unilaterally cut pay and pensions and increased working hours for its professional fire fighters.
Thanks to aggressive, non-stop efforts by the Florida Professional Firefighters (FPF), Local 1375 and the IAFF, those cuts are now restored after years of underfunding, attrition and eroding morale.
In the wake of the deep recession that began in 2008, the Hollywood City Commission declared that financial urgency in fiscal years 2011 and 2012 gave it the authority to circumvent negotiated contracts with fire fighters, police officers and other public employees and implement drastic cuts.
Local 1375, which questioned the financial urgency, nonetheless offered wage concessions and furloughs to help bridge the shortfall. But city officials nevertheless slashed fire fighter pay by 15 percent, making Hollywood fire fighters among the lowest paid in the state. In addition, the city increased working hours and eliminated overtime pay.
Later in 2011, the city held a voter referendum to cut pensions for fire fighters and launched a deceptive ad campaign warning that without those cuts, citizens would face a large tax increase. The measure passed and the city restructured the fire fighter pension into a four-tiered system that left newer hires with much weaker retirement security.
Local 1375 vowed to never give up on efforts to return the hard-earned benefits taken away by the city to its members. The fight to win back all that was stripped from Local 1375’s contract was waged in the courts, the negotiating table and at the ballot box.
“We began a strategy where every contract we negotiated — every opportunity we had — we made sure to chip away a little more of what was lost. We vowed to never stop fighting until everything was returned,” says Local 1375 President Charles Tullio.
With the assistance of the IAFF, Local 1375 appealed the city’s decision in court, arguing that the city misused the financial urgency declaration and failed to demonstrate a need for the drastic cuts to the fire department. In 2014, the District Court of Appeals of the State of Florida Fourth District ruled in favor of Local 1375.
Meanwhile, Local 1375 ramped up political efforts to tilt the balance of power on the seven-person city commission away from anti-labor sentiment and towards respect for public employees and public safety. Now, according to Tullio, the local enjoys the full support of four of the seven commissioners.
“We knew the city was abusing its authority, so we just kept fighting until we won. The truth is, we could not have prevailed without the help from our brothers and sisters in the IAFF,” Tullio says.
During the most recent contract negotiations, which took two years to complete, Local 1375 informed negotiators for the city that it would not discuss any contractual provisions until pension benefits were restored to 2011 levels.
President Tullio says the local repeatedly warned city officials that chronic underfunding was turning the Hollywood Fire Department into a training academy as new recruits quickly realized they could make a better living in other municipal departments.
The city agreed to reopen pension negotiations, paving the way for the approval of a three-year contract with Local 1375 that effectively restores all pay and benefits lost in 2011 and has no out-of-pocket health care costs for retirees.
“That was just icing on the cake,” says Tullio.
At its lowest point, starting fire fighters in Hollywood were making just $12.83 per hour. Now, thanks to the hard work of Local 1375, starting pay is $22.27 per hour.
In March, the City of Hollywood Commission unanimously approved a $2.5 million plan to restore fire fighter pensions, following a similar vote for police pensions, marking a dramatic turnaround for Local 1375 and the Hollywood Fire Department.
“Local 1375 never gave up and never stopped looking at the end goal of taking care of the membership. If you stick together and fight as a union, you will see results,” says 12th District Vice President Walt Dix.