Record Number of Voters Turn Out for El Paso Fire Fighters

May 22 • 2015
When contract negotiations between EL Paso Local 51 and the City of El Paso came to impasse, three lingering issues went to the voters in a May special election. The response: a record turnout — more than 30,000 voters cast their ballots, the majority of whom said YES to the fire propositions on the ballot.

“This is a great victory for our members,” says 11th District Vice President Sandy McGhee. “They developed a great campaign strategy and it worked.”

Proposition 1 asked that fire fighters be given a second chance on a failed drug test. Proposition 2 asked that fire fighters receive a 3 percent wage increase in each of the three years of the contract. Proposition 3 asked that fire fighters increase their health insurance contribution in increments.

In El Paso, if contracts reach impasse, the unresolved issues go to mediation and fact finding. If both of those methods fail to resolve the issues, they can be put on the ballot for voters to decide.

Local 51 says the real sticking point concerned health insurance. The City claimed that there was no money and that fire fighters needed to start paying a much bigger percentage of their health care.

“We have a history of working with the City on money concerns by deferring wage increases and other concessions,” says EL Paso Local 51 President Joe Tellez. “But the City would not negotiate with us on this issue. And we knew if the City would not agree to offset the increased health insurance pay-in with wage increases, it would have been too great of a financial burden on our members.”

Knowing the unresolved contract issues would now go to referendum, the members of Local 51 started to plan. “I had attended the IAFF Ballot Initiative Training Academy in Memphis in 2013 and learned lot there,” says Tellez. “So, we just followed the guidelines I had learned during that training.”

Local 51 stayed silent on the drug test proposition and focused on the other two, launching the “Yes! Yes! For El Paso First Responders” campaign for Propositions 2 and 3 – with great response from the public.

The new contract runs through 2018.