First round of laid off SJ firefighters turn in gear

July 31, 2010 11:28:48 AM PDT
Thirteen firefighters in San Jose did something Friday that has never been done before in city history: they turned in their uniforms and gear after being laid off.

In all 49 firefighters, 46 men and three women, are losing their jobs. It is an extremely painful end to what each of them thought was a long and promising career with the city.

"To be honest, I'm just completely dumbfounded right now, just absolutely cannot believe that this is happening," Michael Hidalgo said.

Firefighters are not the only ones with layoff notices effective Aug. 1. To close a $118 million budget gap, the city of San Jose is letting go 278 people, from custodial workers to librarians.

Dianne Williams-Conklin worked in the transportation department for 20 years. She walked away from City Hall Friday with boxes in her hand along with a sign. She blames her union for not reopening up their locked in contract and making the 10 percent pay concessions the mayor and City Council asked each of the city's 11 employee unions to make.

"Now I get booted from my union is not making concessions. It hurts, and it's going to hurt financially... just missing things, I don't know," Williams-Conklin said.

She worries unemployment may mean she loses her home to foreclosure.

Even the strongest of firefighters is having a hard time fighting back the tears.

"Tell my wife it didn't work out, see what we can do," laid off firefighter Brendan Bueller said.

There is still hope the laid off firefighters can be reinstated.

"To lose them is like losing our brother or sister out of any family, so we will continue to work every day to get them back here," union president Randy Sekany said.

Alex Gurza, chief negotiator for the city, rejected the union's last proposal saying it fell $6 million short of what was needed to avoid layoffs. The city is now requesting binding arbitration to come to a contract agreement with firefighters.

"The firefighter proposal is saving $4 million. Even though $4 million is significant, it's a significant difference," Gurza said.

Early on, the Mayor Chuck Reed warned there would be consequences for unions that did not help the city make it through the recession. But the firefighters union says city leaders are the ones who decided where to cut.

"They're making a policy decision and they're gambling witht he lives and property of the citizens. Very bad," Sekany said.

From City Hall and beyond, real people are caught in the middle of a fiscal crisis.

"I'm just disappointed and frustrated that all of us, all we've done to get to this point is gone," Bueller said.


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