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Firefighters hope to reverse layoffs Monday

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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