Friday, February 18, 2005

Chicago's Dealings With Its Firefighter's Union

Mayor Daley’s challenge in dealing with the unions can be illustrated in the situation with the firefighters. Here is a quote from the Chicago Sun-Times on the desires of management with regard to the firefighters and the paramedics…
“Chicago Fire Commissioner Cortez Trotter wants firefighters and paramedics to work the same shift -- 24 hours on duty and 72 hours off -- to speed the pace of cross-training and hasten the day when firefighters and paramedics can be used interchangeably.
Trotter's push for a shift change comes on the eve of a union election and just days after 1,000 present and former Chicago firefighters gathered in Las Vegas to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the bitter strike that produced their first-ever contract.
Firefighters currently work 24 hours on and 48 hours off, a popular system that allows them to hold second and third jobs.”
The anticipated union response is illustrated here..
“Bill Kugelman, the ousted president now facing a rematch against McNally in a four-candidate field, said he would leave it up to the rank and file.
"I don't dictate to the membership. They dictate to me and I go out and fight for what they want," Kugelman said.
"I don't see anything wrong with it. Your yearly amount of hours worked will go down. Your time-and-a-half will go up. There would also be more hiring and promotions because you're putting on a whole fourth shift. But, if this is what the city wants, we want something in return."
So the union is out for something “in return” for moving forward on a plan that adjusts to reality. The improvements in building codes, smoke detectors etc. mean a continuing decline in the need for firefighting. The trend toward more life safety operations, particularly medical emergencies with continue. The city cannot afford a huge number of firefighters with nothing to do. So the cross-training is the wave of the future. So what to offer “in return”? I happened to hear Mike North on The Score Sportsradio talking to some firefighters. They were surprisingly receptive to Cortez Trotter’s administration because he was trying to improve the training for the firefighters. The one complaint they had is that Chicago is the only major city that does not include bunkers in their standard equipment. So how about spending some of the one-time proceeds from leasing the Chicago Skyway to buy them in exchange for making permanent improvements in the training and scheduling of firefighters? Both sides win because this solution addresses the real needs of both and bypasses the posturing.

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