ORANGE – The City Council will consider on Tuesday whether to impose a new contract on Orange firefighters that would eliminate minimum staffing requirements, limiting the ability for firefighters to earn overtime.
The Council is expected to vote on the contract that would give the fire chief the responsibility of staffing the eight stations, deciding whether to call in a firefighter on overtime to cover for a sick firefighter. Firefighters have criticized the proposal, saying it could leave residents exposed to longer response times during emergencies.
The vote follows nearly eight months of contentious negotiations between the city and the firefighter union, with a state mediator failing to help the two sides reach an agreement.
“This is the last, best and final offer,” Councilman Denis Bilodeau said. “No one in the city wants to short-staff our Fire Department. This issue is about allowing our fire chief to run the department, not the association.”
The proposed contract also includes keeping wages frozen, eliminating extra pay for firefighters who have completed college units but have not earned degrees, and continuing furloughs for non-sworn employees. If approved, the contract would run through June 30, the end of the fiscal year.
City officials have said they hope a new contract will cut into the overtime the city has paid firefighters in previous years. Currently, the city is required to have at least 35 firefighters on duty every day. Officials said that in 2011, firefighters called in sick for 16,214 hours, or an average of 150 hours per firefighter, costing the city $2.8 million in overtime.
Greg Lewin, president of the Orange City Firefighters Association, said he was disappointed the city is trying to force a contract on firefighters without continuing to negotiate in good faith.
“Everyone is trying to tie this issue back to money,” he said. But the proposed contract “could leave Orange below the national standard for staffing. Orange has one of the best fire departments around. With this contract, we’re taking a huge step backwards.”
Tuesday’s vote would be the first involving the firefighter contract for the new council. New Mayor Tita Smith and new members Mark Murphy and Mike Alvarez received a combined $60,000 from the firefighters PAC for their November elections.
Tuesday’s meeting begins at 4:30 p.m. at City Hall, 407. East Chapman Ave.
By FERMIN LEAL/ THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
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