MORAGA -- After four years of contract negotiations, talks between the Moraga-Orinda Fire District and the union representing the district's 59 firefighters and firefighter-paramedics have reached an impasse.
Moraga-Orinda Fire District governing board President John Wyro confirmed Wednesday that the board and union are deadlocked, and said the impasse was "another step in the process."
District officials didn't elaborate, but union leaders expect to go through a legal fact-finding process in which a state panel will speak with both sides.
In a news release, district officials said they had hoped to reach an agreement and avoid impasse.
However, financial challenges -- specifically the district's general fund balance, said fire Chief Stephen Healy -- brought about the impasse.
MOFD is borrowing from its capital fund to keep its general fund solvent. District officials say those capital funds could dry up during fiscal year 2016-17. The expired union contracts, they add, consume 91 percent of the fire district's general fund revenue.
The union -- United Professional Firefighters of Contra Costa County Local 1230 -- received a letter Tuesday from the district declaring the impasse.
Contract talks with firefighters and firefighter-paramedics started in 2010; health care benefits and cost-of-living salary increases have since remained frozen.
Union President Vince Wells said Wednesday that the district had presented firefighters with two offers that include salary cuts.
According to the union, the first proposes a 7.5 percent across-the-board base salary cut effective July 1, and no salary range changes in fiscal year 2015-16. That contract would expire June 30, 2016.
A second "last, best and final proposal" suggests across-the-board pay cuts of 9.5 percent for a short-term contract lasting through June 30, 2015, if an agreement on the first proposal couldn't be reached.
The district also proposes health care changes the union argues would create a disparity between active employees' and retirees' benefits.
"We believe that before a decision was made to cut salaries and benefits of the firefighters, other options should have been pursued," said Wells, who asserts firefighters' compensation isn't the problem.
Under the expired existing contracts, the district continues to pick up 77 percent of employee medical benefits. Employees have continued to pick up the remaining 23 percent plus yearly contribution increases, Wells said.
The district also proposes a new job classification for single-role paramedics, who would replace 12 firefighter-paramedic positions vacated though retirements, attrition or other employment separations. The paramedics would receive less pay and a different retirement benefit formula through the county retirement system, according to the union.
Wells said the union proposed extending the expired contracts for another two years. It also proposed no raises, and said firefighters would continue to pick up their portion of the health care benefits, including the increases.
In the meantime, firefighters can't strike, but union leaders fear the district could choose to impose a contract. "We're at the mercy of the district," Wells said.
The district would prefer not to impose a contract, said Healy, adding that no service cuts are on the horizon, either.