ARLINGTON (CBS11) – A dispute between firefighters and the City of Arlington could lead to a mass exodus of firefighters, according to the president of the Arlington Professional Firefighters Association.

The firefighters association says the city could strip them of more than a million dollars in benefits and bonuses.

“We believe it’s just punitive,” said association president David Crow. “We believe it’s retaliation for us gaining voter support.”

In May, Arlington firefighters asked voters for and received civil service protection. It’s a state-level protection commonly offered to police officers and firefighters. Many fire departments in the Metroplex already have it. It protects employees from being fired without cause and sets standards for promotions and hiring.

Firefighters agreed to pay for the cost of implementing civil service protection, but haven’t been able to reach an agreement with the city after negotiations this week.

The city says the cost of civil service protection is $580,749, but firefighters claim the city is asking them to give up about $1.3 million in benefits and bonuses.

The possible cuts could eat into the city’s contribution into firefighters’ 401k and extra pay for special skills like being on the hazmat or dive teams or knowing a second language.

The president of the association that represents firefighters says it could mean a loss of $5,000 to $10,000 a year for the average firefighter.

“We are having a multitude of our senior officers putting in their papers to retire before October 30, which is when civil service goes into place, to lock in that terminal pay,” said Crow.

The city says additional benefits are up for renegotiation because the civil service protection Arlington firefighters wanted guarantees them fewer benefits than they currently have.

City Spokesman Jay Warren says it’s also a good opportunity to raise hiring standards.

“For instance, there’s a minimum on the hiring standards, and we are looking to not just a written test, but we also previously had more strenuous protocols for hiring,” said Warren.

The city insists negations are still open and will come up for discussion again at Tuesday’s Arlington City Council meeting. If benefits are scaled back, the fire department believes up to 80 of the departments 300 firefighters could retire.