Twenty-four New London firefighters subject to potential layoffs will continue to report for duty for at least another three weeks.
Mayor Daryl Finizio announced this afternoon that a judge has scheduled a hearing on a temporary injunction filed by New London Firefighters Local 1522. The hearing will take place at 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 6, the same day as the next regularly scheduled City Council meeting. Finizio said the layoffs, which were , will be postponed pending the outcome of this hearing.
“The city administration again really apologizes to the firefighters who are caught in the middle of all of this, and to their families,” said Mayor Daryl Finizio. “We started this process early, before the end of the fiscal year, so it could be clearly resolved in time. We’re still hopeful it can be resolved quickly so that these people can move on with their careers and move on with their lives.”
Finizio has said the would have to , including 24 layoffs, in order for the department to meet its 2013 fiscal year budget. He said a would avoid all layoffs. Union president Rocco Basilica said the agreement includes reducing staffing levels per shift from 18 to 16, forgoing two raises totaling 4.25 percent, establishing a pension, and forfeiting nine positions.
The agreement failed to clear the City Council on July 2 after the vote to approve the agreement . Councilors opposed to the measure said they had not had adequate time to review the agreement and were unsure whether bringing the department onto the Connecticut Municipal Employees Retirement System would result in long-term savings. Finizio after this decision, but said they would have to go into effect in order for the department not to run a deficit following the council’s decision on Monday to .
In seeking the injunction, union attorney Eric W. Chester said the layoffs would reduce the number of employees in the department to 41. Chester said these firefighters would face lengthy shifts since they would still be operating under a union agreement, approved in 2009 and running through 2014, which requires a staffing level per shift of 18 firefighters. He said the increased burden would violate a section of the union’s collective bargaining agreement related to health and safety.
“There is a severe health and safety concern with no plan in place to keep our bargaining unit employees or citizens safe,” a union grievance filed on July 3 reads.
Fire Chief Ron Samul issued a memo on Tuesday outlining how shifts would operate with a reduced workforce. He said fire apparatus would have to be taken out of service if staffing levels per shift dropped below 18.
“Life safety will always remain our primary priority, but officers will have to assess incident stabilization and property conservation based on the resources at hand as well as the safety of each individual member at the emergency,” Samul said. “Battalion chiefs will also monitor EMS calls and, whenever possible, prioritize a call to minimize the use of mutual aid units for less serious calls or calls that can wait for an NLFD ambulance to become available, or assign a first responder to assist and wait for an NLFD unit.”
Finizio was critical of the council decisions, saying he thinks some councilors are trying to make “power plays” by postponing the issue. He said the administration has been open to hear councilors’ concerns and that the council has had sufficient time to review the agreement.
“I think we need to all put politics aside and put egos aside…This city needs this, these firefighters need this. It’s time,” said Finizio.
Basilica said the union has also been meeting with councilors on concerns related to the agreement. He thanked Finizio and his staff for their work in the matter.
“He’s been behind us all the way when it comes to certain issues that have come up,” said Basilica. “This has been a very emotional time for the members of Local 1522. I know the mayor was very torn about the decisions he had to make. Unfortunately the council took a position which was very untenable for him.”
Basilica said he thinks there has been some confusion related to the terms of the agreement. He said the costs of transferring to CMERS would be paid by union concessions rather than taxpayers.
“It’s huge long-term savings for the city of New London,” he said.