Los Angeles city leaders Friday denounced a firefighters' union mailer that shows photos from the deadly 2008 Metrolink train crash in Chatsworth, saying the images are exploiting the disaster as a bargaining chip in labor negotiations.
But the president of the union said he was "proud" of the mailer and disputed city officials' description of the images on it.
"There are no blood-soaked towels or bodies or anything that I can see," said Pat McOsker, president of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City. "What it shows is hardworking firefighters at the scene of a real disaster, and it asks the question: What if it happens today?"
Councilman Greig Smith said, however, he was outraged at the mailer, calling it exploitative.
"It is morally reprehensible that the union has used actual crash-scene photos, showing blood-soaked sheets covering victims on the mailer," Smith said. "I am deeply disappointed that the union would use these kinds of tactics with such blatant disregard for the feelings of the families of the victims, who still have fresh wounds from this tragic event.
"This is particularly insensitive on the eve of the anniversary of the disaster, as the entire community prepares for the one-year memorial."
A reserve police officer and former volunteer firefighter, Smith said, "I know personally that many of the firefighters and public safety officers who responded to this (Chatsworth) disaster remain deeply affected, and would be saddened by this tragedy being exploited in a sleazy and misleading union campaign."
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa called the mailer "offensive, tasteless and misleading," and planned a news conference to discuss the issue.
Twenty-five people were killed and 135 were injured when a Metrolink commuter train crashed into a Union Pacific freight train on Sept. 12, 2008. It was the worst rail disaster in state history.
The firefighters' union has been locked in contract talks with the city, which has scaled back operations at fire stations across Los Angeles to combat a massive budget deficit.
McOsker has criticized the budget-cutting move, saying ``people will die'' if the Fire Department continues with the rollbacks, which leaves 15 fire trucks and nine ambulances out of service every day for a year.
McOsker claimed photos used in the union mailer were the same ones used in a recent mailer calling for the expansion of Providence Holy Cross Hospital, a cause that Smith supports.
"His disgust sounds a little bit hypocritical and disingenuous to me," McOsker said.
Members of the union will walk through the streets of Chatsworth -- which is in Smith's district -- on Saturday.
Smith called it a plan to "go bang on the doors of residents in the same community that has already suffered too much, to drum up fears."
He said that despite the union's "fear-mongering," the budget cuts will not close a single fire station, every fire station will have a paramedic resource and response times will remain under seven minutes citywide.
Meanwhile, McOsker said the union is poised to reject the latest contract offer from the city.
"It's only the second proposal made by the city in five months of negotiating," he said. "Without going into detail, all they've done now is switch to slightly different sacrifices, but it's equally objectionable because they're not on par with what the rest of the city's workforce is being asked to do."
The 3,500-member UFLAC wants the same deal the city gave to the 22,000- member Coalition of L.A. City Unions, McOsker said.
That deal, which has been ratified by the union but is still being considered by the City Council, called for delaying coalition members' salary increases by two years. It also provided early retirement benefits, cash bonuses, and some protection from layoffs and furloughs.
"Shared sacrifice is supposed to be shared, it's supposed to be equal," McOsker said. "Unfortunately, the mayor has resorted to the traditional process in this city of playing favorites, of playing one union against another, of whipsawing us. He's cut a deal with one group that he is unwilling to offer to other groups."
McOsker said the basic salary of the lowest-ranking firefighter is about $80,000, and that the city's original offer called for 10 to 20 percent pay cuts.
To protect against that, the union is mounting an aggressive campaign.
Last week, about 100 of them marched into the City Council chamber. This week, they posted an interactive map on their Web site to let the public know which fire stations will have fewer fire trucks and ambulances on call. They have also been sending out mailers, and putting up signs at fire stations.