Los Angeles (myFOXla.com) – Unable to win concessions from the firefighters union, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa today approved a plan to reduce the Fire Department’s projected $39 million budget deficit by not staffing several fire companies and ambulances on a rotating basis starting Aug. 6. Villaraigosa called the measures “difficult but necessary.” United Firefighters of Los Angeles City called it “a cynical effort to leverage us in contract negotiations.” A message posted on the union’s Web site read: “Don’t close fire companies and ambulances, Mayor Villaraigosa. If you do people will die and it will be your fault.”The Fire Department’s budget deficit originally stood at $52 million, but Villaraigosa asked the City Council to transfer $13 million from the reserve fund so the shortfall can be reduced to $39 million.
“I believe it is our duty as public servants to minimize these reductions while remaining responsible stewards of the public purse,” Villaraigosa wrote to the City Council in a letter dated today. Under the “modified coverage plan” submitted by Fire Chief Douglas Barry and approved by Villaraigosa, the department would cut $39 million from its budget by not staffing one battalion command team, three emergency medical services battalion offices, 15 fire companies and nine ambulances every day for the entire year. Barry said the shutdown of resources — dubbed “brownouts” — will occur on a rotating basis at several different fire stations throughout the city. The 87 firefighters and emergency personnel who will be displaced from their normal shifts will staff vacancies on remaining fire companies and ambulances that would previously have been staffed by off-duty employees working overtime. Though Barry stressed the plan would keep all of the city’s fire stations open and staffed with at least one fire suppression resource, he warned the cost-cutting measures would increase response times, further increase the workload at affected fire stations, and decrease the number of fire engines available for pre-deployment to areas with high fire danger. Aside from “brownouts,” the department also plans to stop recruiting new firefighters and maintain only one academy class instead of the current three. On its Web site, United Firefighters of Los Angeles City claimed the shutdown of fire companies and ambulances “will result in certain and unnecessary deaths in Los Angeles.” The union criticized the city’s labor negotiators for supposedly offering them a deal “with pay and benefits reductions so severe and unequally targeted that they are insulting.” “It is dramatically inferior to the deal struck with (the city’s) civilian workers only a few weeks ago.” The union added that if the brownouts move forward, they will conduct a public information campaign that will “almost certainly include opportunities for union members to rally again, much as we did in May when 550 firefighters marched on City Hall.” The results of a ratification vote on the city’s deal with the 22,000- member Coalition of L.A. City Unions are expected to be announced Wednesday afternoon. Under the terms of that deal, city employees will delay their raises for two years and increase their pension contributions to fund the early retirement of as many as 2,400 workers. In exchange, the city offered to give them three cash bonuses and promised not to lay off their workers. It also protected coalition members from furloughs except when the city is experiencing extreme financial hardship.
Story by: myfoxla.com