Warren firefighters agree to four-year deal

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published February 7, 2020


WARREN — Negotiators for the city of Warren and its union firefighters have reached a new four-year deal, one both sides say they hope will help the Warren Fire Department attract new first responders and keep the experienced personnel now on duty.

“Our membership overwhelmingly approved the new contract, so we’re happy with that,” said Lt. Chris Andary, of the Warren Fire Department, president of the Warren Professional Firefighters Local 1383. “The city made a few compromises. The union made a few compromises. We came to an agreement we believe is fair for both sides.”

Andary said union membership agreed to the deal in December and that the pact was signed in January.

Warren Mayor Jim Fouts said the contract awaits final approval from the City Council.

“One of our concerns was retaining employees,” Andary said.

He said the city offered the union a one-year deal last year that was not accepted, and that the union favored bargaining for a longer pact because of the sense of security it brings for firefighters. Andary said that’s especially important as the department looks to fill up to 16 positions to reach its budgeted staffing level of 136. He said that number includes 127 firefighters tasked with fire suppression. They currently have 111 firefighters in that role.

The previous contract expired on July 1, 2019. The new deal is retroactive to that date, and is now set to expire on July 1, 2023.

“We’ve been talking to the Mayor’s Office. Hopefully here within the next few weeks, we can get some applicants here and do some testing, and get some hiring done,” Andary said.

When Fouts was elected in 2007, he made reinstating the EMS transport program through the Warren Fire Department a priority. The program has since won numerous awards, and its “soft billing” model is a moneymaker for the city.

Andary said the union made some concessions to make it work, but that union members are now hoping to recoup some of what they gave up. The new contract, he said, is a step in that direction, particularly for “Tier 2” firefighters not making wages or receiving benefits afforded to those in “Tier 1” who started years ago.

“We got some concessions back in regard to vacation days. We were the lowest paid in Macomb County. In this contract, we elevated that. We’re not the top, but it made it so we’re not at the bottom of the county in pay anymore,” Andary said.

In the contract, annual pay for an entry-level firefighter/paramedic increases from $43,924 to $48,029.

Another highlight, Andary said, is a provision that allows a firefighter with some experience at an International Association of Firefighters department to realize up to two years of that experience on the pay scale as a new hire in Warren.

He said those added benefits, and the work experience offered through the Warren Fire Department, should help make it a more attractive destination for recruits and experienced firefighters looking to build a career in Warren.

“The biggest thing is our tradition. We’re a very traditional fire department,” Andary said. “A lot of guys want to do the firefighting aspect along with the EMS aspect. We do have quite a bit of experience in our firefighting division with house fires and commercial building fires. And basically the size of our department, the attitude of our department, the camaraderie we have.

“It says a lot about our membership when we’re the lowest-paid department and you get the best service,” Andary said.

Fouts said inking the agreement with the city’s firefighters will contribute to financial stability for the next four years.

“We have the best firefighters in the state,” Fouts said. “It ensures labor peace and the ability to retain our employees.”

He said he’s committed to filling the ranks of the Fire Department, and the Warren Police Department, by making wages more competitive.

“I give credit to (Warren Fire Commissioner) Skip McAdams, who has been in my opinion the best fire commissioner in the history of Warren,” Fouts said.