New contract with Ann Arbor firefighters may signal a new era
If anything has marked police and fire services in Ann Arbor in recent years, it’s been the combination of reduced staffing and rocky relations between the city administration and unions. Welcome to a new era. The transition out of recrimination and retrenchment continued last week when the city announced it has reached agreement on a new contract with firefighters. The pact includes the same kinds of savings in employee benefit costs that the city achieved in an earlier contract agreement with police officers.
Ryan J. Stanton | AnnArbor.com
We hope that’s the case. Based on the contract with the police union, the mayor already has said he expects not only to avoid cuts in police protection, but to be able to hire additional officers. Coming off a year in which City Council eliminated 20 public safety positions, on top of earlier cuts, it has become essential to stabilize the police and fire departments and prevent further staff reductions.
Also encouraging is the improved relations that the new contract heralds between firefighters and the city administration. Fire Chief Chuck Hubbard spoke of the tremendous tension that he felt between the union and management when he took over the department. He said the contract settlement, which the parties managed to achieve outside of arbitration, has allowed the city to begin to “bridge that gap.’’ Hieftje also described the agreement as a “breakthrough in that relationship.’’ Legislation at the state level to control employee benefit costs and reform the arbitration process for police and firefighters certainly contributed greatly to the city’s ability to secure these new contracts. The result is a fiscal turnaround for the city and hopefully the end of an era of cuts in public safety.
The next step for the city is to address response times for fire calls. A recent consulting report have found that the city does not meet national response time standards. With this new contract as a framework, we look forward to the city laying out for the public how it is responding to those findings and improving response times.
At a time when we continue to see encouraging signs about the economy, we’re equally encouraged by news of Ann Arbor’s ability to attract new industry and jobs because of the talented workforce it offers.
As we reported last week, unemployment in Michigan fell to 9 percent in January, the lowest rate since September 2008. On the local level, that improved picture is reinforced by announcements like the one last week regarding Commerce Guys, a technology company that says it will move to Ann Arbor and plans to grow its local workforce from 14 to 30 employees.
The company, which currently has offices in Jackson and France, recently received additional venture capital funding of $5 million. Its e-commerce software is currently running on more than 10,000 web sites and it says it wants to relocate to Ann Arbor because our city offers a better opportunity to recruit the software developers it needs to continue its growth.
While the upswing we’re finally seeing in Michigan’s economy is being driven by the recovery of the auto industry, we know that we’ve relied too much on manufacturing in this state and that we need to continue to diversity our employment base. Every new sign that technology companies see our region as a good place to locate and expand their operations is a welcome one.