Berkeley, California Uses Fire Truck to Steer Union

The City Council put more pressure on its fire fighters' union Tuesday by threatening to shut down one of the city's two fire trucks at night unless the union helps balance the budget by agreeing to a 3 percent giveback.

Such a concession would put the fire fighters in line with most of the city's other unions, who had no choice because of a clause in their contracts that allowed the city to impose it unilaterally.

But the fire fighters' contract contains no such clause, and negotiations have been stalemated since July. Tuesday's vote was an attempt to give the city more leverage. Unless the union gives in, the fire truck will be grounded from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. starting on Nov. 8, the Monday after the election.

But the story is more complicated, because the council is also engaged in a delicate dance with the union over Measure M, the paramedic tax on the November ballot.

Up to now, the fire fighters have been resisting the council's pleas to throw their considerable political weight behind Measure M. But on Tuesday the lawmakers promised that if Measure M passes, the city will use some of the funds to reinstate the fire truck.

"Keep in mind, if the paramedic tax passes, a lot of this goes away," said Councilman Gordon Wozniak. He said he'd much rather see the measure pass than have to make the decision to cut the truck's hours.

But Local 1227 President Marc Mestrovich remained unmoved.

"They say they're going to use the paramedic tax to fund the fire truck, but the paramedic program also has to be funded," he said. "Where's the money going to come from?"