Fire union rejects city’s offer; layoffs set for Saturday

That’s because the fire department’s union voted the last three days to reject the city’s proposal that would have saved the positions and eventually four more positions.

Greg Justice, president of International Association of Firefighters Local 336, said after counting the votes today, he determined Middletown firefighters didn’t like “many of the features” drawn up by the city that left thousands of residents without “safe and adequate” fire and emergency medical service protection.

He said throughout the whole negotiating process it seemed the city had a “hard time identifying” its goals and effectively communicating them. In addition, he said, it appeared city leaders had a “lack of awareness of what the citizens truly wanted.”

He said the new tentative agreement called for “significant increases” in response times and gave concern for the availability of firefighters.

City Manager Doug Adkins said if the city’s Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) wasn’t approved before Saturday, as previously announced, 11 firefighters would be laid off and four other positions would be eliminated through attrition. Those set to be laid off include firefighters with less than seven years experience.

At the Aug. 19 City Council meeting, Adkins said the city and the fire union had reached a tentative agreement that would have saved 15 firefighter positions. The union was scheduled to vote on the proposal later that week, but the 74 members never voted, Justice said. Then earlier this month, the city extended the deadline for an agreement from Aug. 16 to today in hopes the union would accept the city’s offer, Adkins said.

When contacted tonight , Adkins said he couldn’t comment because he hadn’t been notified by the union that the (MOU) was rejected.

Middletown Mayor Larry Mulligan was unavailable for comment and council member Anita Scott Jones said she didn’t want to express her personal opinions or talk for the council. Justice said laying off the firefighters and closing Fire Station 84 on Tytus Avenue has caused firefighters’ “bewilderment.”

Justice said firefighters were advised by City Law Director Les Landen and Fire Chief Steve Botts that whether or not they choose to adopt the city’s plan, the staffing level was going from 16 to 13 firefighters. Justice called those levels “insufficient” to provide safe adequate fire and EMS services to the community.

“For the sake of the citizens, it is unfortunate both parties couldn’t effectively collaborate to mitigate their competing concerns,” Justice said. “The firefighters did reach deep with concessions the city was looking for, however, it never seemed as though the city had similar concerns regarding citizens’ safety as held by the firefighters.”

Adkins said when the city budget was passed in November, 11 firefighters were set to be laid off this year as a way to reduce the city’s budget. As a result of that budget, he said, preparations were made for layoffs and a change was made to “first emergency first” (FEF) to “better operate under the reduced staffing level.”

Under the FEF, each fire house would be equipped with a medic unit and a fire truck, and the firefighters would take whatever piece of equipment was needed for the specific emergency calls.

The MOU was intended to last for two years, according to a copy obtained by The Journal-News. Through the agreement, the city would have been allowed to hire full- and part-time firefighters without “blowing up” the budget, maintain current service levels and to begin building additional flexibility and capacity for the future, Adkins said.

Adkins said there are 26 full-time firefighters, those who work 51-hour weeks, who are eligible for retirement over the next five years. When those positions open, Adkins said, “cheaper” firefighters would have been hired, which would have saved the city money and allowed it to concentrate on other areas, such as paving roads.

Justice said those firefighters will be less experienced than those on staff.

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