By John Duchemin
Advertiser Staff Writer
More than 1,700 Hawaii firefighters should see their pay increase about 10 percent by July 2002, an independent arbitration panel has ruled.
The pay raise is the major change in a contract between the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association and Hawaiis state and county governments.
The union represents 1,600 firefighters from the states four counties, plus about 150 state-employed airport firefighters.
The arbitration ruling, which was confirmed by firefighters union officials, comes as other public employee unions continue to grapple with the government over higher pay.
The state reached tentative deals in December with two units of the United Public Workers representing more than 10,000 employees, but has not reached agreement with the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly and the Hawaii Government Employees Association.
Firefighter union president Capt. Bobby Lee called the raises fair even though the increase was less than the unions 14.5 percent target.
Lee said firefighters have been seeking a new contract for almost two years.
"We are pleased with what we came back with," Lee said. "We think its fair."
The four-year contract is retroactive to July 1999 and is in effect until July 2003.
It calls for no raises in the first two years, and 5 percent raises in each of the last two.
That means firefighters get a 5 percent raise in July 2001, and another in July 2002 provided state and counties appropriate money for the raises.
The state has balked at a recently arbitrated 14.5 percent raise for the Hawaii Government Employees Association, and is deadlocked with teachers, who are demanding a 22 percent hike.
The State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers in June 1999 won a four-year contract that includes a 14.5 percent raise.
"I dont anticipate that a 10 percent raise should cause too many problems with the counties," predicted Joan Husted, deputy executive director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association.
The firefighters union last negotiated a contract in 1996.
It called for a 7.2 percent pay increase over two years, Lee said.
The latest contract, in addition to the raise, would make other adjustments including a slight increase in the meal allowance, Lee said.
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