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We reported on Saturday that the San Diego firefighters’ union, Local 145, had reached a tentative agreement in contract talks with the city. I just spoke to Ron Saathoff, president of the union, about the deal.

Saathoff said the tentative agreement is a “step in the right direction.” He said the union is appreciative of the agreement, which includes a 3 percent raise on July 1 and a further 2 percent raise Sept. 1.

But Saathoff said the pay increase will still not make up a 6 percent drop in take-home firefighters have experienced since 2005, when they agreed to contribute more to their retirement contributions.

And Saathoff said a new medical benefits program that was thrust upon firefighters last year in contract negotiations benefits some employees at the expense of other. The new plan pays firefighters a sliding scale of benefits according to their experience and their family status. Prior to 2007, all of the city’s firefighters received a blanket amount.

I asked Saathoff about his worries last year that the Fire-Rescue Department might be on the verge of a recruitment and retention crisis similar to the one that has engulfed the Police Department for the last few years.

“Well, last year we started to lose people,” Saathoff said. “That’s unprecedented in San Diego. For the first 28 years of my career, I could count on one hand the number of people who left this department. Last year we lost five people and this year we have already lost 8. Is that a crisis? No, but it’s an unprecedented change here in San Diego.”

WILL CARLESS

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