Hoffman Estates and its firefighters union Monday finally resolved their long dispute over the current three-year contract -- with the added benefit of turning it into a harmonious six-year contract.
"That's positive for everyone, and we did it without attorneys at the table," Hoffman Estates Village Manager Jim Norris said.
Last summer, the union was awarded through arbitration a contract retroactive to Jan. 1, 2012, which stretched through Dec. 31, 2014. Village officials quickly appealed it.
Their strongest disagreement with the contract -- and the only change negotiated in the new one -- was the arbiter's granting 72 hours of unearned time off each year which could be used, accrued or cashed in.
With 83 firefighters in the department, an additional 72 hours of time off was seen by village officials as a lot to schedule -- or pay out.
The new agreement negotiates that down to 48 hours, with the understanding it must be used or cashed in during the same year it's earned.
The unchanged part of the new contract still gives firefighters raises of 2.5 percent in 2012, none in 2013 and 2.5 percent in January 2014.
The new part of the contract grants a further 1 percent raise in March 2014, and 1 percent raises on Jan. 1 and June 1 of 2015, 2016 and 2017.
Norris said the new contract probably meets the definition of a successful negotiation in that both sides are satisfied -- but not overly happy -- with it.
While the lines of communication between the village and union had become more strained through the arbitration and its appeal, cooler heads ultimately prevailed, Norris said.
Union President Dean Slater said he, too, was pleased with the contract, adding that saving taxpayers pension costs was a priority throughout the negotiations.
And while pleased to have skipped over an imminent round of new talks for the next three-year contract, Slater conceded that such a deal is something of a gamble.
If the economy greatly improves, there could be the feeling that the union might have done better, Slater said. But for the meantime, the members are happy to have a signed contract, he added.