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Lost GRU revenue clouds otherwise productive GFR bargaining session with the city

Gainesville Fire Department’s ladder truck at Station No. 1 on Main Street.
(Riley Sullivan/ WUFT News)
Gainesville Fire Department’s ladder truck at Station No. 1 on Main Street.

Gainesville city officials and Gainesville Fire Rescue got off to a smooth start negotiating a new three-year contract on Wednesday. But both sides have yet to face potential budget hurdles from a reduction in funds from Gainesville Regional Utilities.

An anticipated shortfall from GRU could mean less money for pay raises, new training, time off and other expenses that could affect the long-term quality of emergency services for Gainesville residents.

Nick Gonzalez, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 2157, negotiated the changes during the April 10 bargaining session between the city and the local union to begin contract negotiations for 2024-2027.

Gainesville is one of a few municipalities across the state, and the first in North Florida, to switch to the 24/72 scheduling model, which gives firefighters three days off immediately after a 24-hour work shift. City commissioners approved similar changes on Nov. 2 for GFR district chiefs as part of a new bargaining agreement which begins in September.

“We always like to begin contract negotiations earlier than most other departments, especially before the new 24/72-hour schedule begins this September,” said Gonzalez.

During Wednesday’s session, both sides covered crucial topics, including salaries, parental leave, disciplinary actions, wage packages, working conditions, benefits, pensions and agreements that would benefit both sides.

“We’re all working for the same place, and we like to maintain a great relationship with our unions,” said Laura Graetz, the Director of Human Resources for the City of Gainesville before the session began.

Gonzalez and his union representatives said they had put a couple hundred hours into the proposal while ensuring it was lean and would reflect the city’s tight finances.

This new shift schedule demonstrates a continued commitment from city leaders to firefighters, paramedics and the community at large.

Because Gainesville Fire Rescue is the first city in North Florida to make the scheduling change, the decisions made in these sessions could lay the foundation for hundreds of other departments to follow behind.

“I’ll spend at least an hour a week talking to other union members at departments from Ohio to Minnesota where they could have 25 members to 2,500 and answer questions about how our transition to the new 24/72 schedule is going,” said Gonzalez.

Members of the union said they are confident that being on the front side of these big decisions will aid in the department's competitiveness, something they have struggled with in recent years due to minimum staffing and is causing many firefighters to work overtime.

That overtime pay is also coming directly from the city and is an agreement the union is hoping to reach in their next session.

“It doesn’t matter what we have in our personal lives that day. If we don’t have enough staffing, we don't get to go home,” Gonzalez noted.

The labor market has become increasingly competitive, prompting many departments to pay bonuses to fill their vacancies. For example, firefighters and paramedics in Polk County are paid up to $10,000 as a sign-up bonus in the first year of their contract. 

Although some market-driven proposals for increased wages were brought up at Wednesday’s bargaining session, the city has not yet made an official decision although it could at the next session.

“I think the city’s position is one of uncertainty [concerning its budget], but we’re still looking to enter an agreement and to help them build stronger budgets,” said Gonzalez.

Equipment like this is used for calls and in training. Replacing these items costs the City of Gainesville thousands of dollars per year.
(Riley Sullivan/ WUFT News)
Equipment like this is used for calls and in training. Replacing these items costs the City of Gainesville thousands of dollars per year.

Some agreements passed on Wednesday involved technology-based seniority lists, designated training hours and equipment upgrades that would benefit firefighters while also saving the city thousands of dollars in replacement costs. Although some articles were tabled, the union said it was happy with the progress made and is enthusiastic to find common ground with the city.

The next meeting is scheduled for April 24 when the city will have to respond to the union's proposals.

“This has always been one of my favorite things to do, and it’s the most rewarding as it will help the lives of my 180 members and their families,” Gonzalez said.

Riley is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing