Section: Main,  Page: A10

Date: Thursday, January 12, 2012

ALBANY-- A labor arbitration panel has handed city firefighters 2 percent raises retroactive to 2010 and 2011, a decision that ends a two-year labor stalemate but will cost the city least $750,000.

Perhaps more significant for taxpayers, however, the three-member arbitration panel refused to force the city to pay the full cost of retired firefighters' health insurance -- a benefit it currently provides voluntarily but which has become a flash point as city's finances have worsened.

The Albany Permanent Professional Firefighters' Association, the union that represents most of the roughly 245-member department, asked the panel operating under the authority of the State Public Employment Relations Board to require the city to guarantee that benefit moving forward.

But in its rejection, the panel -- made up of a union representative, a city representative and a neutral third party -- said rising health care costs could render that bill "staggering."

In recent months, the union -- and its counterparts representing city police officers -- have fiercely opposed efforts by some city lawmakers to require new retirees to contribute toward the costs of their health insurance premiums.

The 2 percent raises, meanwhile, are half what the union sought.