1. #1
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    Angry Firefighters sue city.

    Firefighters go to court to block layoffs

    By Tom Dalton

    Staff writer


    SALEM - Retracing the legal path it followed a year ago, the Salem Firefighters Union went to court yesterday to block Mayor Stanley Usovicz from laying off firefighters.

    Just days after nine firefighters received layoff notices, the union filed a complaint in Superior Court late yesterday seeking an injunction against the mayor to force him to comply with the current labor contract and to fully fund the Fire Department budget.

    A hearing has been scheduled for Friday, June 18, at 9 a.m. in Superior Court.

    The court action comes as tension mounts between the mayor and one of the city's largest and most powerful labor unions.

    "I don't know what degree he has in college, but I know it's not fire engineering," said John O'Leary, president of Salem Firefighters Union Local 172. "For him to sit back and say we have the proper response time and the proper manning is a very untrue statement, and he shouldn't be making statements like that without the knowledge behind it."

    The mayor said he is acting in the best interests of the city, not of one group of workers.

    "I understand Mr. O'Leary has a position of protecting union members, and I can understand and appreciate that," Usovicz said. "I hope he understands and appreciates my position looking after an entire city and not just the Fire Department."

    This latest legal battle comes a year after the union won round one of this prolonged court fight. Last year, the union went to court after the mayor submitted a budget proposal that would have eliminated 14 positions and reduced the manning level to 70. After a judge ordered Usovicz to fully fund the contract at 95 positions (including the chief), the City Council pared it down to 84 -- the status quo at the time -- after conferring with the union.

    At present, the Fire Department is still funded for 84 positions. Five firefighters have retired this year and the mayor has not replaced them. If the nine layoffs take effect, the ranks would shrink to 70.

    When asked what had changed in a year, Usovicz pointed to the contract, which expires June 30. He contended it will not be in effect when the next fiscal year begins on July 1 and these cuts take place. O'Leary, the union boss, said the terms of the contract automatically extend until a new agreement is reached.

    It also appears the city will argue in court that a precedent was set last year when the City Council reduced the manning level from 95, the legally mandated number stipulated in the current contract, to the present level of 84. That vote made the contract language "unenforceable," the city says.

    The mayor's move has been harshly criticized by city councilors.

    "This jeopardizes not only the safety of our citizens but also the safety of the firefighters themselves," said Councilor-at-large Kevin Harvey, chairman of the Committee on Administration and Finance. He called the decision to go back to court a costly "mistake."

    Usovicz dismisses those arguments, and says 70 firefighters is "an adequate number to preserve the safety of all our taxpayers." He said changes in fire safety codes, fire prevention, training and mutual aid make such large firefighting forces unnecessary. He pointed to neighboring communities, such as Danvers and Beverly, which are similar in size to Salem but have smaller fire departments.

    The mayor also called for changes in the department to reflect the smaller force.

    "There needs to be a reorganization in the Fire Department," he said. "We have seen a change in the chief, and there is no better time to do (a reorganization) than now."
    I dont suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it.

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    So after compromising with the city on the court order, the mayor is using that compromise to stick it to the union and undermine the contract. If they win again, and I hope they do, they should demand the full 95 positions. Never give back ANYTHING.....it's never appreciated. As an old boss once told me, **** 'em.....charity begins right here at home.

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    So after compromising with the city on the court order, the mayor is using that compromise to stick it to the union and undermine the contract. If they win again, and I hope they do, they should demand the full 95 positions. Never give back ANYTHING.....i

    When I first got involved in negotiating contracts I thought reasonable people could come to reasonable agreements. What I learned from city and their labor attorney after twelve years, is that nice guys truly do finish last.

    However, I'm all for giving credit where credit is due, so I must admit that at the present time we have the best relationship with the city that we have had in the past twenty years.
    DKK
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    "Above all, an assignment to a truck company should be considered a promotion."

    Chief John W. Mittendorf-1998

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    He said changes in fire safety codes, fire prevention, training and mutual aid make such large firefighting forces unnecessary.
    Are you kidding me? These changes may, emphasis on may, make fire less frequent, but they don't reduce the numbers of firefighters needed to put them out. And his reference to Mutual Aid..ok so its ok to cut our staffing, because we'll just use the guys from the next Town over to fill in the blanks. Mutual Aid should not be used to replace manpower. Mutual Aid is supposed to be used when your own resources are maxed out.

    Sounds to me like the Union never should have settled for the 84 positions, but then again, nice guys do finish last.

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    One of the primary mutual-aid cities for Salem is Beverly. I lived there as a kid and they had 6 stations with 6 engine companies and 3 ladders. They now have 2 engines, a quint and a ladder in 3 stations. The ladder is taken out of service due to budget cuts routinely. This for a city of 40,000+.....and they should provide aid to Salem?

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    And saying that Danvers gets by with a smaller force(49) is a A FALSE statement. Danvers is a TOWN with a 60, 30,10 split between residential,commerical and industrial. Danvers has a resident population of 24k.
    Salem is a CITY and has about 50-60K population and a barrel load more commercial and industrial because it is a CITY, Danvers is a TOWN.
    And if he tries to compare Salem FD to Beverly FD he need only to look at the Cove garage fire in Beverly of March 17 2004 to see the current weakness and crippleing effects budget cuts have taken on BFD.

    Apples and Oranges Usovicz,Apples and Oranges.

    Side note: My eyes see history repeating itself here. In 1902 the residents of Salem complained of a weak fire department unable to handle alarms effciently. In 1904 the city burned in the great Blubber hollow conflagration.
    A hundred years later..........have they forgot that lesson?


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