By CHUCK BALLARO
With 2013 just around the corner, both the city and fire and police union reps are getting together to begin bargaining on new contracts, with the heavy lifting due to come after the holidays.
And as was the case last year, pension reform will be front and center of the negotiations.
The city and fire union reps had its first talks on Friday, with hopes that both sides can not only come up with an agreement, but do it with as little animosity as possible.
Police reps got together on Monday, with a white-collar and support meeting Tuesday at the police department building, hoping for the same thing.
Police union rep Kurt Grau did not respond for comment.
"These are full contracts and there is still a lot of work to be done," said fire union rep Brendan Fonock. "We'll meet after the holidays, but nothing I know has been scheduled."
One of the first ways to keep the peace, city and union officials say, is not negotiating in the press.
"We do everything at the table and not in the press in respect to both parties," Fonock said. "The negotiations are open to the public."
City Information Director Connie Barron echoed those sentiments, adding the city hasn't negotiated through the press before. Police spokesman Todd Sizemore made a similar comment.
Last January, the police, fire and city employee union membership accepted an agreement which included a 2 percent pay cut and a 3 percent increase in the employee's share of the pension contribution. This raised the employee contribution from 7 percent to 10 percent.
The City Council approved the contracts in February, each by a 6-2 vote.
But it was a very intense negotiation, with several impasses declared and some posturing and feelings of mistrust declared before the deal was finally implemented.
Fire reps, for example, last September offered the city $1.5 million in givebacks on the condition that former City Manager Gary King resign.
King was fired without cause in December.
Further negotiations on pensions are sure to be a top item this time around, as City Manager John Szerlag and some City Council members warning that pensions are threatening to break the back of the city's budget in coming years.
The city is already negotiating with city employees in an effort to eschew traditional pensions for private-sector plans for new employees.
They started negotiations Thursday and were slated to continue Tuesday.
All parties involved have been mum so far, with only occasional statements of hope.
"We're hoping to reach a resolution that everyone can live with," Councilmember Kevin McGrail said.