Mayor Purzycki Comments on the Current Contract Dispute Between the City and IAFF Fire Fighters Local 1590
City offers its firefighters a 24% wage increase over four years with a new work shift that would effectively end the need for a rolling bypass
Mayor Mike Purzycki today commented on the City’s contract dispute with its firefighters who are represented by the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1590. The City is offering firefighters a 24% wage increase over four years and would implement a new work shift that effectively eliminates the need for a rolling bypass. The stalled contract talks have now moved to binding arbitration. Mayor Purzycki issued the following statement this afternoon:
“Fire Fighters Local 1590—the union representing Wilmington’s firefighters—has begun to share information publicly regarding the status of ongoing contract negotiations between the union and the City. Recent social media posts and public demonstrations by firefighters have foreshadowed what is to come. The union’s claims that this Administration is not concerned about public safety, or that I or the Fire Chief would do anything to endanger firefighters or the public, is grossly irresponsible.
Public comments from some firefighters and their supporters have centered on what they claim is a danger to firefighters and the public because of the Department’s use of a rolling bypass. This is a more than 20-year practice of taking one fire vehicle out of service on a rotating basis on a particular day to meet staffing constraints. While rolling bypass has been employed over more than two decades in Wilmington, my Administration would prefer to operate the fire department at full strength without the need for the rolling bypass.
Some firefighters have alleged that if the City would simply replace the 16 vacant firefighter positions eliminated during the FY 2018 budget process, then the rolling bypass could be eliminated. This is not true. Even if the City could afford to add back the positions at a cost of at least $1.2 million annually, the current shift schedule would still require some use of the rolling bypass.
That is why the City has proposed a new work schedule for firefighters that would essentially eliminate the need for the rolling bypass. Since 2006, firefighters have worked a total of 91 scheduled days per year, exclusive of time off for vacation, sick days or other allowed absences. This is known as a 24/72 schedule consisting of a single 24-hour shift followed by three days off. The 24/72 shift requires a four-platoon system, but the Department is not sufficiently staffed for this schedule without the use of rolling bypass.
Under the new shift proposal, firefighters would work a 24/48 schedule consisting of a single 24-hour shift followed by two days off. Under this plan, firefighters would work a total of 104 scheduled days per year, instead of 91. The new shift would only require a three-platoon system (as opposed to four platoons) eliminating the need for rolling bypass. The proposed shift is currently in place in cities such as Chicago, Illinois; Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis, Indiana; Montgomery County, Maryland; Vineland, New Jersey and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
We cannot afford the current shift which exists to serve only one purpose. It allows firefighters to have side businesses or other employment. As required under the terms of the current contract, over 82 of the City’s 155 firefighters (156 is the current authorized strength) have notified the chief of outside employment. In addition, the current shift enables firefighters to reside far from Wilmington including places like northern New Jersey, at the Delaware beaches and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
For three years, my Administration has made it clear to firefighters of our intention to change the existing shift. Our position has been consistent throughout. Overall discussions with the firefighter union over the past three years have been cordial and generally positive. But after three years of a lapsed contract (the current agreement expired in June of 2016) and the current stalemate in negotiations, the City finally asked the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) for a ruling on the City’s prerogatives regarding changing the current shift and platoon system. PERB’s decision supported the City’s authority in these matters while indicating that related items, such as salary and other issues, needed to be negotiated.
We notified the union recently that, pending further negotiations, a new shift change will take place effective July 1, 2020, giving firefighters at least six months to adapt to the new work schedule. At the same time, after mediation between the City and union failed, we moved to binding interest arbitration on all other open issues between the parties. It is our hope that arbitration will bring matters to a close once and for all. Three years with no progress in contract negotiations is long enough.
Regarding pay for our firefighters, our latest proposal to the union increases salaries by 16% commencing with the implementation of the new shift, and a total of 24% over the term of the four-year contract. This substantial increase corresponds to the increase in the number of hours worked under the proposed shift change plus a two percent annual cost-of-living increase for each year of the contract. These salary increases will also notably increase the pensions that firefighters are eligible to receive immediately after serving on the department for 20 years.
Wilmington has an outstanding fire department, led by an equally outstanding Chief of Fire. Our firefighters protect us and are true firefighting professionals. This Administration has treated, and will always treat, our firefighters with the respect that they deserve, which is the same respect that is accorded all City employees. For the first time in decades we have completely refurbished one City fire station at a cost of about $2 million and are making significant improvements to other stations as budgets allow. In response to a union concern about the lack of physical fitness equipment in the fire stations, we furnished each firehouse with new gym equipment that was selected by the firefighters themselves. In recognition of aging fire vehicles, the City acquired three new pieces of firefighting apparatus at a cost of more than $2.5 million.
Again, it is simply not accurate or fair to claim that this Administration is not concerned about public safety. Our proposal resolves the rolling bypass issue and compensates firefighters more than fairly. For all the accusations being leveled at this Administration, let’s be honest about what is causing the current contract friction. City firefighters want to continue to work 91 full days per year which is once every four days and no more. In the public’s interest, I must disagree. It is just that simple.”