Colorado Springs firefighters battle a garage fire in this Gazette file photo.

With or without help from the Colorado Springs City Council, the local firefighters’ union aims to place a collective bargaining question on the city’s April ballot.

The Professional Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 5, will kick off its push Saturday to collect about 16,000 valid signatures to earn a spot on the ballot, said local President Dave Noblitt.

At union headquarters, 29 S. Institute St., members will collect signatures and offer refreshments and explanations on why their quest is important.

“It’s pretty cut and dried,” Noblitt said. “It’s to make sure public safety is the No. 1 priority for budget consideration.”

Proposed Colorado Springs budget calls for hiring police officers, firefighters and raising salaries

The Fire Department is overworked and understaffed, Noblitt repeatedly has said. With collective bargaining status, the union could use nonbinding arbitration between the city and a neutral third party.

Even if the issue is approved, firefighters can’t strike. State law prohibits public safety employees from doing so during labor disputes.

Mayor John Suthers has expressed strong opposition, arguing that collective bargaining would slow negotiations each year and could shrivel funding for other departments.

The City Council could vote to place the union’s question on the ballot, and council President Richard Skorman had promised the union such a vote. It was postponed in August to avoid an expensive special election. The council will broach the topic again in November, Skorman said.

Suthers has asked the council not to approve Local 5’s request. But if the union petitions onto the ballot, the council won’t have a say.

The city’s Title Review Board approved Local 5’s ballot question last week, said City Clerk Sarah Johnson.

“It doesn’t mean it will go on the ballot or not; it approves them to go out and solicit signatures,” Johnson said.

Local 5 has until mid-December to get the signatures from local registered voters. Then Johnson would have 30 days to validate them.

Noblitt said Local 5 has hired Rocky Mountain Voter Outreach of Denver to help collect signatures, along with union members. @conrad_swanson

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