Evanston firefighters union members are going door-to-door this weekend handing out fliers hoping to drum up public support to persuade aldermen to reverse the scheduled July 31 layoff of three firefighters.

The headline from the flier firefighters are distributing.

Evanston firefighters union members are going door-to-door this weekend handing out fliers hoping to drum up public support to persuade aldermen to reverse the scheduled July 31 layoff of three firefighters.

The headline from the flier firefighters are distributing.

Union President Brian Scott says the union hadn’t had a formal negotiating session with the city since April 7, but that after he learned Tuesday of the planned layoffs, he offered to agree to the city’s demands for an increase in employee health insurance payments, unpaid holidays, and no pay hike this year while continuing talks on staffing levels.

“To us it’s really not about economics,” Scott said, arguing that the union is more concerned about maintaining the staffing levels — both for the safety of the public and for on-the-job safety for firefighters.

But the staffing issue could end up being decided by an arbitrator under the proposal Scott made, and that would potentially leave the city locked into staffing levels it might not be able to afford.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz had said when the aldermen adopted a budget for the year in February that, depending on the state of the economy and the results of contract talks, he might have to make further cuts as soon as May, beyond the several dozen layoffs included in the original budget.

An arbitrator ended more than a year talks between the city and its police union late last month with a decision that gave officers a no-layoff guarantee this year, but no pay increase and unpaid holidays plus an increase in employee health insurance payments.

A couple weeks later the AFSCME local representing most city workers agreed to a contract with similar terms.

Scott conceded that the city had offered the firefighters a similar no-layoff guarantee for the year, but said the firefighters are more concerned about maintaining staffing levels. If some firefighters retired during the year and were not immediately replaced, the staffing-level agreement would require scheduling firefighters to work additional shifts at overtime rates.

A plan that had been part of the city manager’s original budget proposal to cut department overtime by not calling in firefighters on overtime when staffing levels fell slightly because of sick days or vacation schedules was rejected by aldermen during the budget debate after an intense lobbying effort by the union.

So far aldermen interviewed about the fire layoff decision this week have said they see it as difficult, but necessary, given the city’s budget problems.

The layoffs would reduce the number of Evanston firefighters on duty during a typical shift from 26 to 25.

The special City Council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at the Civic Center.

Related link

A copy of the union flier: “Firefighter layoffs threaten community safety”

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Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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7 Comments

  1. welcome to reality

    More then a decade ago, the Evanston Fireman’s Union leadership decided to get involved in local Evanston politics. Fireman who didn’t live in Evanston transported voters to the voting booth on Election Day on behalf of their candidate Art Newman who barely won. In addition, a Union Representative for the Fireman got involved in the Fair Share Action Committee which drove a serious wedge in the economic opportunities with Northwestern University. Both actions were financially devastating to Evanston and now we all get to face the consequences.  Feel lucky it’s only three Firemen losing their jobs at this point and not an entire Firehouse which is inevitable under the circumstances. I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but this is a reality you all put yourselves in through your leadership and by drinking the Liberal Kool-Aid that money (taxes) grows on trees. It doesn’t.
     
    Openly hating Republicans who had good fiscal ideas for Evanston certainly didn’t help your cause either.
     
    For those who don’t know, 2010 was the year Evanston was predicted to have an 18 million dollars surplus from tax revenue collected from the Downtown Redevelopment Project. The project was controversial as most local businesses were against it, but the Public Unions of Evanston were in favor of it and stood behind the Democratic Machine of Evanston during the process. As we found out later, the project was mired in corruption and failed to deliver the tax revenue as promised. Unfortunately, Evanston obligated the projected revenue through contracts in exchange for political support. The people who cut the deals behind closed doors illegally ten years ago with developers are the very same people who negotiated the Union contracts and other then Ann Rainey, all those decision makers have since fled town or office.
     
    I spent almost 1 million dollars in rent when I owned Ofischl Sports in Evanston and most of that went to taxes. When I spoke out years ago about the risk of the Downtown Redevelopment Project (that it would drive out independent retailers and bankrupt Evanston), I was blackballed from doing business from almost every Department in Evanston (including the Schools) because I dared to question authority (The Machine). It was the corruption I questioned, not the politics although that has now become one in the same in Cook County. In retrospect, I should have kept my mouth shut as I learned about true reality – nobody cares (or at least not enough to make a difference).
     
    For those who voted for hope and change in the last election and now realize you just got more of the same, welcome to my reality.
     
     
    Tom Fischl
    Campaign Manager
    Eckersall for Cook County Assessor
  2. A new reality

    I hate to see anyone lose their job, but indeed there is a new reality.  It’s happend to me in the past, so I know how awful it is.  These are rough times. Some observations on the topic of the firemen.

    1.  The vast majority of America does not enjoy the level of fire protection that we have in Evanston.  In rural and vacation areas, it can take 10-15 minutes or more to get an ambulance or fire truck.  Fire departments are made up of volunteers (and even in some fairly large communities) and don’t have equivalent equipment.  And life goes on.  Here, fire fighter’s paint a terrifying picture that life safety is at stake and would be severely affected.  That’s not the case.  Yes, there will be some very minor effect, but that’s okay. We have been gorging ourselves on fire services.  Our reality is so far different than the reality in most of the world and the cost of it is finally becoming apparant.

    2.  It’s impressive to see fire fighters rally around their own.  It’s also sickening to see them whine.

    3.  Dozens of city employees have been laid off, yet not any fire fighters.  Firemen are no more special than any other city workers. 

    4.  Somehow, this 20 years of service and a gold plated pension has got to stop.  For the fire fighters and the police.  We taxpayers can’t afford it and, sorry, they don’t deserve it. Again, what makes them special?  If fire fighters get such a gold plated pension, why shouldn’t the people in other departments get the same?  I’m sure that they will argue that they have more difficult and sometimes dangerous jobs.  But they are being compensated accordingly.  It’s not like they are being underpaid for those 20 years.

    The pendulum has swung too far.  Fire fighters have pushed things into their favor, taking advantage of adlermen that were inept at negotiating (or perhaps corrupt, as mentioned by others).  The new economic order appears to be the opportunity to get things shifted to the middle.  To fairness.

    INTERESTING SIDE NOTE:   The Building Department, presently, is missing 4 or 5 staff, including the Director (a licensed architect), who was laid off.  I find it amazing that the Director was laid off, replaced by (with all due respect) are comaparatively unqualified, unlicensed Director of Property Standards.  i.e. a licensed architect was replaced by someone who chases after people whose grass is too long or the paint on their house is peeling.  Astounding. The Building Dept. is responsible for life safety insofar as it affects construction.  Imagine this equivalent scenario:  That the City Manager would lay off the Police Chief and would assign the responsibilityof running the Police Dept. to the head of traffic enforcement.  Or, that he would lay off the Fire Chief and place the head of the Library in charge.  Yet, the city manager decided to do just that with the Building Dept.  Again, astounding.

    Also interesting:  Tthe Building Dept. is down about 30 or 40% in staff.  Imagine if the Fire Dept. was reduced by 30 or 40%.  And yet, upon think about it,  life would go on . . .

     

  3. how does the ambulance system work?

    I’ve never called for an ambulance so haven’t had a chance to ask the question below. I notice that when a city ambulance is on a run there always is a fire truck with it. But, when I see private ambulances, they are always alone.

    When someone calls for an ambulance – how is it determined whether a city or a private ambulance goes and is the accompanying fire truck dispatched all the time, or just in certain cases?

     

     

     

    1. Ambulance response

      The engine responds on EMS (ambulance) calls for 2 main reasons…

      First, the engine (1 of 5 spaced evenly throughout the city) is probably closer to the incident and can provide immediate Advanced Life Support care prior to the arrival of the ambulance (which may well be responding out-of-district, returning from the hospital on a previous call.)

      Second, the exact nature of the call may be unknown.  I have been on calls that were dispatched as a simple lift-assist ("I’ve fallen and can’t get up.") that turned out to be a 280lb victim in full cardiac arrest.  The engine company is there to provide manpower and assist with the critical tasks needed to provide definitive care and transport for the victim.  By dispatching both engine and ambulance together, unanticipated complications can be mitigated immediately, rather than delaying transport waiting for needed assistance.

      As far as the differences between private ambulance service and fire department ambulances, private ambulances are primarily used for non-emergent and/or scheduled transportation of patients to and from nursing homes and hospitals.  (This is not to say that private ambulances do not have the skill or ability to handle critical patients!)  Critically ill patients need the fast response times that fire-based EMS can provide.

      Hope this helps.  Feel free to stop by the firehouse to talk any time!

  4. Evanston Fire Union’s scare tactics is a new low

    Shame on the Evanston Fire Union for the bullying and scare tactics and misleading charges.

    First, not ONE Evanston firefighter has lost their job, three vacant positions were eliminated.
     

    Second, it wasn’t until the Evanston Fire Union decided to go to arbitration to fight for a pay raise that Wally B. and the Council decided to layoff three existing firemen.  

    Third, the layoffs of existing firemen DO NOT threaten the community’s safety. If it did then other communities would not have laid off existing firefighters. Everyone is cutting back.

    Fourth, of course Evanston had the most calls on the North Shore – Evanston is the largest North Shore community with an international university. Evanston also has by far the most firemen and fire stations – Skokie has only three fire stations but 10 square miles, compared to Evanston’s eight square miles. 

    There is an easy solution should the response time increase – privatize ambulance service. That is something many suburbs are doing and considering to do. I think our Council should seriously explore those options

    Fifth, the Evanston Fire Union has the gall and audacity to suggest there is "no economic justification" for the layoffs. Illinois has a 11.2 percent unemployment rate with $8 billion in debt.. We’re in a severe recession and hundreds of people are losing their homes to foreclosures in Evanstons. The city’s tax revenue continues its annual decline as propertyy values plunge but property taxes rise.  

    So now the Evanston Fire Union members, most of whom do NOT live in Evanston, will spend their time knocking on citizen’s doors and passing around fliers to ask people to pressure the Council not to layoff three firemen. Does anyone see a problem with that?

    Can you imagine an employee of a private company marching into the CEO’s office demanding not to be laid off and using bullying and scare tactics? It’s no wonder that last month of the nearly 500,000 new jobs, 440,000 of those jobs were government jobs.

    I implore my fellow citizens to email, call and go to Monday’s Council meeting and not only support the layoffs but demand the city privatize ambulance service and cut more in the Evanston Fire Department budget.

     We are in the fourth year of a major recession and STILL the Council has not laid off ONE existing fireman. It’s time our local, state and federal government cut back as the private sector is doing and not capitulate to government union strong-arm tactics.

    The irony here is the Evanston Fire Union donated campign money to the mayor and most on the Council and probably feel entitled. That’s probably why they’ve continued to receive their annual pay raises, overtime pay and no existing layoffs. But not even the Council can ignore the dire fincnail straits Evanston and Illinois is in.

    Even a Northwestern economic professor I know says Illinois will definitely go bankrupt if legislators do not reform the current government union pension system, which means taking away government union benefits lsuch as a 3 percent annual pay raise for life, retirement at age 55 and receiving 75 percent of their last year’s salary in retirement. The pension system is unsustainable.

    And here the Council is dithering with the layoff off of three firemen. Phish.

    1. Lack of facts

      Al, I suggest you get out of the house once in a while and talk to somebody about a topic before you pretend to be an expert. I have done so, I have talked to a couple of aldermen, all of whom are remaining tight lipped and deferring to Wally so that he can be the bad guy.

      I also was able to talk to a few firefighters yesterday while they were passing out fliers. What I found out confirms what most people already know about your rants. THEY ARE COMEDICALLY ERROR FILLED!

      1) You are correct in 135 years the City of Evanston has never laid off a firefighter. However three positions were recently eliminated through attrition. Is this not a better way to cut staff? Or are you only happy if people are losing their livelihood. FYI the firefighter I talked to told me of the three firefighters being laid off; all three are under 30, one is married with three children, one is engaged, and one was hired three months ago. Why hire someone three months ago to lay them off now? Does Wally really not have a good enough grasp on this budget to be able to forecast three months out?

      2) The firefighters are not asking for a pay raise. The firefighters have agreed to the City’s financial package. The only thing the firefighters are asking for is a manning clause to guarantee that staffing will remain at current levels. They are not asking to increase staffing, only to keep it where it has been since the 1980’s.

      3) Two studies have been done, one of which was commissioned by the city, that say cutting staffing below what it is currently at is in fact a safety risk. The EFD is understaffed by every national standard. Many of the areas that have cut staffing had 4 people on each vehicle, and they cut it to 3. Evanston is already at three. Simply because other towns have reduced staffing does not mean it is a good idea everywhere. Also, none of the areas that have cut staffing have the makeup of Evanston. A large population, a university, multiple high rises, violent crime, poverty? Do not kid yourself Evanston is not a suburb, it is a city that lies next to a larger city.

      4) I researched other local departments and Skokie actually employs more firefighters than Evanston, only a couple more, but it is still more. While Skokie is larger area wise Evanston has far more high rises, plus two major hospitals, a university, plus larger and busier shopping districts . This results in a far larger number of people in the City at any given time. Population estimates sit around 75,000 but studies show the daytime population reaches almost 3 times that.

      As far as ambulance privatization, the little information I could find shows that a number of towns including Berwyn and Franklin Park have recently dropped their private contracts, and elected send their firefighters to paramedic school. The big positive of privatization is a reduced cost. The downside seems to be a lower level of care due to less experience medics. According to the firefighters I spoke with many paramedics do not stay with a private company long because the goal for many of these individuals is to move on to be nurses, doctors, or firefighters.

      5) The union is not denying that there is a recession, the firefighters are affected by it as much as anyone else. Nobody get rich as a firefighter. What they are saying is there is no budgetary reason for these layoffs. The firefighters have already agreed to the city’s economic package, and have offered to make it retroactive to march 1 of this year.

      As far as you obvious dislike of these fine men and women. I would like to see you say it to their faces, you don’t have the guts. Also, while many of them do not reside in the City, the Fire Union is currently funding and doing the labor to renovate Firemen’s Park at Maple and Simpson. Not only is this saving money for the city, but I guarantee any of the firefighters that are working on this project has more sweat equity in this city than you ever will.

      As a side note, because I know you have such an affinity for pensions. Did you know that our city manager Wally B. is attempting to roll his years of service in California into his Illinois pension. Its not entirely legal but if he accomplishes this it will mean the people of Evanston will have the pension liability for years he spent in California. But I’m sure that considering your expertise in all fields you already know all about this.

       

      1. About the lack of facts

        1.  These are human beings that are about to be laid off.  No doubt.  But we could make a list describing everyone that was laid off so far.  Quit stroking the violin.

        2.  Forget it.  If the city has to cut, they have to cut.  The city should not be bound to firemen like they are a mortgage.

        3.  Just get rid of a couple of vehicles or close one of the stations.  That will save money and make your statistics look better.  Besides, these are difficuly economic times.  The numbers don’t have to look pretty.

        4.  Evanston is not Skokie.  Does Skokie have the economic problems Evanston does?

        I don’t like that bit of news about the CIty Manager and his pension.  Hmm.  What to do?

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