Most of the dozen speakers at Monday’s special City Council meeting urged Evanston aldermen to cancel planned firefighter layoffs. 

Most of the dozen speakers at Monday’s special City Council meeting urged Evanston aldermen to cancel planned firefighter layoffs. 

Brendan Collins and Megan Kamarchevakul, two of the firefighters scheduled to be laid off July 31, stand in front of the portraits of former Evanston mayors outside the City Council chamber.

Peter Butterfield, 1008 Judson St., said Evanston firefighters saved his life about five years ago with “incredible professionalism” when he was in complete respiratory failure. He said “there have got to be other things” to cut.

“With layoffs, there will be a ripple effect felt,” said Highland Park firefighter and Evanston resident Bill Brennan. “There will be a day when minutes are needed most, there will be a delay in the fire service arriving, and as a citizen here in Evanston I don’t think that gamble is acceptable.”

Funeral director Nathan Haliburton said he wouldn’t want to be in the city manager’s shoes to know what to cut, but as a citizen he would rather see money going to firefighters’ salaries than to other services, such as city trees.

But Jane Alexander Davis, of 1726 Leland Ave., said firefighters are far from the only city employees who’ve felt the sting of job cuts.

“You are one of many sections of Evanston’s government that have felt the pain,” she said. “You are proposing your jobs are more important than others.”

And Kevin O’Connor, of 1227-1/2 Isabella St., criticized the anti-layoff flier firefighters distributed over the weekend as “non-factual” and “fear-mongering.”

The layoffs, to go into effect July 31, would cost the jobs of the city’s three most recently hired firefighters, Brendan Collins, Megan Kamarchevakul and Chris Weglarz. 

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the city started contract talks with the union in December, but in April union leaders demanded some control over staffing levels — a concession the city was unwilling to make.

He said Interim Fire Chief Greg Klaiber asked to meet with the union again, but the union cancelled two sessions early in June and chose to go to arbitration.

Bobkiewicz said he decided to cut the three positions to cover costs the city might incur as a result of an arbitration decision, but said the city will continue to work with the union to reach a contract settlement.

Union president Brian Scott said that since the process of selecting an arbitrator hasn’t been completed, “the door is open” for direct talks with the city.

Scott said that he had hoped there would have been “open public discussion and even an open council vote” on the layoffs at Monday’s meeting.

“We’re disappointed that didn’t happen,” Scott said, “but we still hold out hope that it could in the future.”

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  1. No need for layoffs

    I agree that there is no need for layoffs.  All the firefighters union needs to do to avoid layoffs is agree to across the board salary cuts of 10% or more, loss of family medical coverage, and a substantial reduction in the DB pension benefit formula or a 5 to 7 year increase in the retirement age.  This should save enough money to avoid the need for layoffs.

    But they will never do that.  Instead, they will distribute misleading flyers around the neighborhood to try to scare the residents into a tax increase by telling them that their safety is at risk.  Such behaviour is abhorrent.   The union does not care about the residents’ safety.  All they care about is their own pocketbooks.


  2. We live in a “new reality”

    Layoffs are unfortunate, but today we live in a "new reality" Evanston doesn’t have the money to keep salaries and benefits and staffing at current levels for the firemen and other employees. City leadership accepted a 5% pay cut. Other union contract negotiations reflect this "new reality" Look at the new figures for Evanston’s Fire and Police unfunded liabilities – $174 mm – that’s $2,300 per Evanston resident – for a family of 5, that’s over $ 10,000 !! (assuming it’s equally distributed)

    There are no easy answers – people are going to have to accept this "new reality" and "shared sacrifices" will be asked and required from everyone. The three Evanston firemen who are laid off, may want to talk with the recently retired fire chief to understand the "good old days" The fire chief retired on May 28 at the age of 51. Evanston taxpayers are paying him about $100,000 cash plus benefits. His annual pension increases 3 percent, so by age 75, we’ll be paying him about $ 200,000 cash plus benefits.

    Who is able to retire at 51? Now do you see why Evanston has a problem ? Something has to change.

    Today, we’re laying off three firemen, and we’re in process of closing our branch libraries. Tomorrow…Evanston Art Center, Ecology Center..will they be closed ?

    Something has to change.

  3. Firefighters should be ashamed of fearmongering

    The Firefighters Union grossly overplayed its hand in distributing a flier earlier this week that was a flagrant attempt to terrorize Evanston residents into consenting to a tax increase. They should be ashamed of themselves.

    Yes, firefighters are important and their services are indispensible. But consider the complaints laid out in the flier.

    They say they haven’t had a raise in the past six months, that they’re being asked to contribute more to their insurance coverage, and that they’re being asked to give up six paid vacation days per year.

    Excuse me? I have worked in the private sector for the past 25 years. I have no pension plan. I take off only about one week per year, although I’m technically entitled to more, and I haven’t had a raise in ten years. Recently my employer was forced to drop our insurance plan, and so now I’m struggling to pay individual coverage.

    The public sector is only now being forced to make budget cutbacks the private sector began phasing in 20 years ago and more. The public sector has held onto its perks only because it is somewhat insulated from free market forces.

    The reality is that workers in the public MUST make concessions. There is no choice anymore. It’s no longer a question of ideology. There simply isn’t enough money for the benefits to continue as they have been. States and municipalities everywhere are broke.

    We should try to bear in mind that we’ll in this together. Fliers like the one distributed by the firefighters’ union cause only fear and division.

  4. Sorry, we can’t afford it

    I agree.  The fearmongering is pathetic.  And the fire fighters offer nothing.  They offer NOTHING.  They simply want more.  They want guarantees that staffing will remain at current levels.  They want that layoffs are cancelled.  Oh sure, let others in the city get laid off instead.  Well give me a break.    I have pretty much lost my respect for these fire fighters.  We taxpayers can’t afford an oversized fire department (it’s not understaffed . . . we have too many fire stations) and an outrageous pension deal.  

    Remember when the housing bubble burst and everyone subsequently agreed that it had been crazy that banks had been giving loans to anybody.  It WAS crazy.  And now we’re scratching our heads about the pensions and thinking "this seems crazy."  It is crazy.  We’re digging a deeper and deeper hole and there is no plan to get out.  None at all.  And special interests, like the fire fighters, just want to have their cake and to heck with everyone else.

    Retirement pension after only 20 years?  It’s simply nuts and it’s got to change.  The Manager and Council need make some drastics changes.  It’s unfortunate, but these are our times.

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