SJ firefighters union awaits response to proposal

August 2, 2010 6:05:57 PM PDT
Laid off San Jose firefighters made some concessions over the weekend, but it is not clear if that will be enough to save their jobs.

Also, there is a new twist to the negotiations. A new fire chief is in place. Monday was the first day on the job for William McDonald. The chief is planning to save both jobs and money.

This is day two that Engine 33 has been closed as a result of the 49 layoffs. Now, the union has proposed new wage and benefit cuts that could help reverse the layoffs, but there is still quite a money gap.

The five-page proposal by the firefighters union will be the basis for a new round of talks starting Wednesday afternoon. However, city negotiator Alex Gurza says the proposal only produces about $4 million in savings and that falls far short of the $10 million it would take to hire back the 49 firefighters.

"If the city accepts less and says OK, we can hire back some of those, that's certainly clearly an option, but I think what gets sacrificed is some of those services," Garza says. "So, our preference would be to hire all 49 back and get enough concessions in order to do that."

Union president Randy Sekany does think the economic gap is shrinking and further talks could be productive.

"We're very hopeful that we can get back all 49 firefighters and get all of the engines running again and truck companies to protect the citizens," he says.

Mayor Chuck Reed and the City Council will be briefed Tuesday ahead of negotiations. He says it will take $10 million to reinstate the firefighters and to restore fire station staffing.

"What they've offered is about $4 million in concessions. That's not enough to avoid layoffs. The layoffs have already happened," he says. "It would be enough to reinstate all of the firefighters that were laid off."

The closure of Engine 33 on Communications Hill has residents nervous. Response time for them will go from one to two minutes to as long as 8 to 10 minutes.

"We're quite worried about it. I mean honestly, the response time, even in a matter of minutes," says resident Karl Dahlin. "You have dry summer conditions. And we've already had a number of fires that spark up. Within 60 seconds, they spread across the entire length of the hill, so we're all quite worried about our homes."

There were two grass fires in San Jose Sunday and that was a first test of lower staffing. One log indicated that during the four hours it took to put out those fires, six stations were vacant, while seven others were covered by shifting personnel from other stations.


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