Firefighters Demand Contract, Pay Raise

November 8, 2012 Updated Nov 8, 2012 at 7:46 PM EDT

By Rachel Elzufon

November 8, 2012 Updated Nov 8, 2012 at 7:46 PM EDT

Buffalo, NY (WKBW) - Thursday morning, hundreds of firefighters rally on the steps of Buffalo City Hall, saying that they have also gone without a contract or a pay raise for too long.

There was a show of solidarity from hundreds of Western New York first responders, local politicians and the head of the International Association of Firefighters.

Harold Schaitberger, the IAFF President asked the crowd "what do we want? A contract! When do we want it?" Firefighters responded "now!"

Buffalo firefighters have gone 11 years without a contract or pay raise.

Union President Dan Cunningham says "morale is horrible -- just horrible. It's all people talk about."

Mark Schroeder said what they need is "no more lawyers, no more arbitrators, no more consultants -- get in the room and talk about this."

Buffalo firefighters say they are willing to compromise vacations and health insurance.

However, the union claims the problems come down to pay and safety.

Cunningham says experienced firefighters, paid at a tier five level, get paid about $54-thousand base pay. He says that's about $10-thousand less than firefighters in similar cities.

"We're not trying to break the bank," Cunningham tells Eyewitness News. "We want to be treated fairly."

The bigger concern: Cunningham says the City of Buffalo won't agree to a Minimum Manning Clause to staff four firefighters per engine on an emergency call -- a nationwide guideline for first responders.

The union has turned down contract offers in recent years, at least one which included a pay raise.

The tide could be turning though.

Common council members say contracts were frozen years back. However, talks are expected to start up again soon.

Common Council Member David Rivera "it's long overdue and I'm glad to hear that they're sitting down and trying to hammer out an agreement."

Mayor Byron Brown did not comment because of pending contract negotiations. However, a spokesman says Mayor Brown wants to see a deal that is fair for everyone, including the taxpayers of Buffalo.