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Outside of the Denver Firefighters Museum on Oct. 28, 2019. 

The Denver City Council agreed to amend the Denver Fire Department union’s collective bargaining agreement to put off salary increases until the end of next year, as well as scale back certain benefit programs, in order to save roughly $7.3 million to offset major revenue losses the city faces from the pandemic. 

The agreement with the International Association of Firefighters Local 858 was approved in a 12-1 vote Monday with Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer as the lone member in opposition on the grounds that she could not support pay raises while city employees will be furloughed for the second year in a row due to the pandemic.

With the council’s approval, the agreement, which runs from the start of 2019 through the end of 2021, will be changed in five ways. First, the 3% salary increases will be deferred until Dec. 31, 2021, estimated to save nearly $4.3 million. The city’s annual contribution to the Post Employment Health plan will be suspended next year, saving nearly $1.4 million. In 2021, the city will also suspend holiday premium pay provisions for three holidays, as well as pay provisions for birthday holiday and an annual uniform allowance, saving a total of about $1.7 million. 

The council’s nearly unanimous consensus on the agreement reflects a stark contrast from its response to the bargaining agreement with the police department’s union, which the council narrowly rejected, hurling it into third-party arbitration. It was the first time in recent memory that the city council has rejected a police union contract proposal, since police were granted collective bargaining rights in 1995. 

The move backfired against the legislative branch, with the outcome giving police even larger raises than what was outlined in the original agreement. 

With coronavirus cases surging and Denver facing new levels of public health restrictions, city officials are bracing for even greater revenue losses than the $220 million estimated this year and $190 million anticipated in 2021. 

“The impacts of this resurgence of COVID cases are likely to impact both our 2020 and our 2021 revenue estimates,” Kiki Turner, spokeswoman for Denver’s Department of Finance, told Colorado Politics in November. She expects to have a better estimate on the financial impacts next month.

To help stem a bleeding economy, Mayor Michael Hancock's administration called for city furlough days both this year and next and required its agencies and offices to tighten their purse strings. City leaders also accelerated the Elevate Denver Bond Program, which will infuse $170 million into the coronavirus-addled economy with the goal of creating jobs and boosting consumer spending in the region.

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