Saturday, July 31, 2010

Overtime Showdown: Mayor vs. Fire Department

Apparently Easton is not the only city wrestling with the overtime issue...

Posted by: Noel Jones

In Colin McEvoy's article in Thursday's Express Times, Mayor Panto takes on the Fire Department over the subjects of both overtime and filing grievances for compensation--both of which get paid out of our tax dollars.

This is one of those union issues that, much like the EASD's struggle with the teachers' union earlier this year, really wears me out. On one hand, if we didn't have unions, we wouldn't have such concepts as the 9-5 work day, a mandatory lunch break, sick leave or medical benefits. We could easily be like China, where millions of people work 14-16 hour days in factories and are lucky if they get one day off. But I fear that due to either greed, stubbornness, or both, unions are so reticent to negotiate--even during one of the worst recessions our country has ever experienced--that the tide of popular support for unions is beginning to turn, and talk of "union-busters" is tossed around like citizens of Gotham calling for Batman.

One one hand, anyone who is willing to risk burning alive to rescue someone they don't even know (and who may not even deserve it) is a true living hero in my book. On the other hand, in a city of only 5 square miles, why do we have to have 10 firefighters on duty at all times? Couldn't we have five on duty and five on call? And if we have the ability to call the Wilson firefighters (which we do) when we need extra manpower before using Easton firefighters who are already on overtime, then why is it wrong for the Mayor to try to save us money that way?

What do you think? Post your comments here--this is a complicated discussion and it's worth hearing everyone out, to get all perspectives before forming an opinion.


Anonymous said...

Note the following news release on FDNY which indicates that the heat waves have had an impact on NY overtime:

"The New York City Fire Department is set to reduce staffing in 60 engine companies from five firefighters to four.

With a summer marked by several intense heat waves, sources tell NY1 that medical leave levels have risen above 7.5 percent in the last 30-day period.

That is the threshold which contractually allows the city to reduce staffing to help control overtime.

It is the fourth time in seven years that the Department will reduce manpower.

The Uniformed Firefighters Association says the city has miscalculated the way it computes medical leave, because the agency does not give firefighters who go home sick in the middle of a tour credit for having worked some portion of their shift.

In a statement, the UFA said, "This miscalculation is further magnified by the FDNY being 300 firefighters under head count and three recent heat waves that took a great physical toll on firefighters working in 100 degree-plus heat. It is a fact that any reductions in engine company manning endangers firefighters and public safety, especially given that the last five years have been the busiest in the 145-year history of the FDNY."

Firefighter staffing is a touchy subject for the firefighters' union.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg is hoping the UFA will agree to permanently reduce staffing during firefighter contract negotiations next year, which would bring the city an initial savings of some $8 million."

FDNY officials will next review the medical leave rate on September 1.

Anonymous said...

I have heard the mayor many times commend our fully paid professional fire department. i have also heard him talk about financial stability and controlling costs. Unfortunately for the fire union they don't understand tyhat you can, and musty have both. Why is it that the same Administration can negotiate a fair settlement with two unions -- police and the non-uniformed -- but not fire. And from what I understand they haven't agreed to a negotiated settlement in many many years.

And more and more of the firefighters are moving out our city and paying taxes toi other municipalities.

Totally aside from the issues reported I wonder why the ET hasn't covered the most recent grievance. From what I understand from one firefighter who is fed up with the union leadership, a fire candidate was hired, sent to the fire academy to become a certified firefighter. He was earning his city salary while training and we paid for his tuition. Unfortunatly the gentlemen didn't pass the academy and was not certified as a firefighter. Guess what? Yep tyhe city fire union is fighting it and the city will spend more money fighting another "frivolous" grievance -- yes Mr. Hand this is frivolous. A person who can't do the job should and can't get certified needs to be let go. Period.

Anonymous said...

Let's be fair.

The firefighters negotiated in good faith and did not reach a settlement. They followed the law and sought an arbitrated settlement. The administration was upset with the arbitration award. The firefighters have done nothing wrong.

For all those who believe that there needs to be a recognition of the city's financial situation, then do something. Cut the fire department, cut the number of stations. We are the enemy. We employ firefighters to work 24 hours on and 48 hours off. That means 72 hours one week and 48 hours the next. Lots of overtime.Don't like it then change it.

Just as many police and non uniformed employees live outside of the city.

Regardless of what an employee does, Pennsylvania law requires that a union represent an employee in any disciplinary issues including discharge. If an applicant does not meet the academy and the city seeks discharge, the firefighters union is required by law to defend the applicant.

Don't like the law, then get Freeman to change it. But don't blame the firefighter or the cop or the teacher who follows the law.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:14,
There is a difference between the union being contractually obligated to represent an employee and the union having to defend him. In this case it should be obvious to all (including the union) that he is unable to perform his job. Or isn't the word "reasonable" in the union's vocabulary?

Anonymous said...

Are there any nationwide studies that show average sizes of fire departments per square mile or per person?

Anonymous said...

These are the facts: The minimum staffing levels at the Fire Dept. has been in place for many years. If any firefighters are abusing sick time, there is a process in place within the contract for the Chief of the department to address any misuse. The chief & the Panto administration have chosen not to keep the Dept. fully staffed, they have kept staffing 2 to 3 men short over the past few years.

Anonymous said...

anon 922

THe duty of the union to defend a member employee has to do with the Pennsylvania Employee Relations Act and decisions of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board concerning the relationship between the union and its members. If you are a public employee union operating in Pennsylvania you must accept responsibilities in defending members even though union membership may disagree. Get Freeman to change the law if you don't like it.

Dennis R. Lieb said...

This is an issue I'd feel uncomfortable about arguing as a layperson since I have no background in the specialized nature of the job...staffing requirements and other technical details of firefighting preparedness probably vary city to city. Staffing a station in a dense neighborhood of Manhattan - with fifty story buildings - can't be compared, apples to apples, with staffing Easton's stations, just as Easton's needs probably differ from Forks or Palmer.

The continuous saga of arbitration between the city and firefighter's union became standard operating procedure under Goldsmith. From what I was told then, there was a devious method to his madness having to with dealing with the police contract differently then the he would the firemen. Perhaps someone privy to that process can elaborate on the specifics.

It would be one positive side effect to Easton's citizens if this contractual conflict resulted in the public finally being educated about the issues of one of the city's core, public safety responsibilites: firefighting manpower, response time, equipment needs and management. At least then we would be better able to understand the problem the next time instead of being at the mercy of special interest spin.

Is this the press' responsibility to investigate - perhaps before it becomes a contract issue or should the explanation come from elsewhere?

Any balanced response is welcome.


noel jones said...

The fact that seven out of eight comments so far are anonymous indicates another layer with regard to the issue of the community's relationship to our unions. Why are readers afraid to post their names in this discussion?

noel jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I am posting to this blog as Anon for good reason that I don't care to share. If you don't want anon. entried then delete it from your blog, but please don't chastise me for something that you allow.

Now to this issue. I read that the Administration was very satisfied with the arbitration award, primarily because unlike the other two city unions who accepted some responsibility for their heathecare, the firefighters fought it to the end. That is what cost us taxpayers money but will ultimately save us money on heathcare. I say thank you to Panto for not caving in and for sticking to sound financial management practices, They now pay for healthcare and they don't like it. Now go after the overtime and who knows, maybe another year without increasing my taxes.

noel jones said...

Anon 1:45--I was not chastising--merely pointing out that many people are truly uncomfortable with members of the union knowing that they are critical of their actions, which is problematic.

I allow anonymous posts deliberately, but take note of which subjects inspire the most anonymous posts as a measure of citizen comfort in discussing certain topics publicly.

David Caines said...

I'm not sure where else to put this, but tomorrow night is our "national Night Out against crime"
Just thought I'd put it out there.
Ps: I like Easton FD, we had a false alarm on our system and they were here in like three minutes.

Anonymous said...

I don't think anyone questions the response or professionalism of the EFS when fighting a fire or responding to a call. I have head the mayor himself many times praising their virtues. It apears to me that this is about a cash strapped city trying to eliminate as much as possible to help us taxpayers. I don't ehar the mayor talking about layoffs in the fire department like many of us in the private sector have to fear.

I too applaud the mayor for his fiscal conservatism and wanting to keep the city's finances stable wothout raising taxes. The firefighters should be helping, not hurting that effort.

g_whiz said...

I seem to recall there was an issue with the city of Allentown and firefighter overtime a year or so ago. Ah, after a quick Google search it seems there was a "sick time" problem. I'll include the link for food of thought:

Sandra Walters Weiss said...

GWIZ,geewiz,I think you have got it hello everyone I miss seeing all of you but I was on a much needed vacation to my home state of Florida,I left home but still stayed connected with "Neighbors" and wanted to share that difference in the School Systems all Charter Schools and to get in is done by lottery. Got to get together with friends from the old Alma Mate Univ of Miami in Coral Gables back to the dilemma,good work Noel and GWHIZ you have both said it all.

Sandra Walters Weiss said...

Profuse apologies g whiz,gee whiz what I try trying to do was agree and noel,excellent Cartoon. I could hardly contain myself!

Anonymous said...

Whoa Sandra what are you on?

Sandra Walters Weiss said...

I rarely take offense but if you found it hard to understand that I was agreeing with the opinions stated in the comments by some folks that don't feel the need to post anonymously.On the contrary if the Mayor of our town can post his name and opinion, whatever are you hiding?And anon,I am high on life,if you can't understand,I will pray that even as I age I would never be as judgmental as you! So come out of hiding and I will openly debate this or any other issue that has to do with the quality of life issues as well as my opinions on fiscal matters,unions overtime etc.You should try being high on life,much more satisfactory than you could understand.

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