Firefighters furious over proposed ballot amendment

January 28, 2010 7:50:22 PM PST
San Francisco supervisors are considering charter amendments for the June 8 ballot. One puts the city's firefighters on the hot seat by increasing their workload.

The topic is as hot as the blazes they fight; a proposed amendment to the San Francisco charter would increase the number of hours city firefighters work. Right now by law they cannot work more than 48.7 hours a week. If that is hiked to 52 hours, the city controller estimates a savings of $7 million a year.

"Because you have firefighters working longer days on straight time, it reduces the need for overtime pay to staff our fire stations and additionally you're gaining more productive time without increasing the pay of firefighters," San Francisco Controller Ben Rosenfield said.

"Let's be truthful, this is about firefighters working more hours for no more pay, that's what it's about," San Francisco Firefighters Union spokesperson John Hanley said.

The charter change is proposed by Supervisor John Avalos, who faced a critical crowd of firefighters at a hearing Thursday. Avalos points out the city is facing a deficit of more than $500 million for the new fiscal year.

"It's become untenable, we have to find ways to find flexibility and everyone can make sacrifices across the city so we can protect what's best here in San Francisco and other services we care about," he said.

According Rosenfield, San Francisco's mandated 48.7 hour work week is well below other California cities including Oakland, San Jose, Fremont and Los Angeles -- all at 56 hours.

But San Francisco firefighters say because their city is so dense and they make so many runs, a more fair comparison is cities on the East Coast.

Their counterparts in Philadelphia and Boston have a lighter load, 42 hours a week, in New York 40 and in the Midwest, Chicago firefighters spend just under 45 hours on the job.

Avalos is pitching his idea for the June ballot but it would not take effect until the firefighters' contract expires in 2011. Their politically powerful union has vowed to kill it.

Another hearing is scheduled for next week.