Scores of firefighters plan to descend on Los Angeles City Hall on Wednesday to protest $39 million in budget cuts that are expected to increase emergency response times across the city.
On its Web site, United Firefighters of Los Angeles City called on its off-duty union members to hold an “informational picket” in front of the City Hall parking entrance on Main Street at 8:30 a.m. and then attend the 10 a.m. City Council meeting to oppose the cutbacks.
“It is critical that we have a healthy contingent there to register our grave concern for public and firefighter safety,” according to the online union bulletin.
UFLAC President Pat McOsker has said the plan to shut down 15 fire trucks and nine ambulances every day would have tragic consequences.
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“Eventually -- and it will not take long in the city of Los Angeles where we run 1,300 emergencies every day -- eventually, someone will die because we didn't get there in time,” McOsker said.
Fire Chief Douglas Barry developed the “Modified Coverage Plan” to reduce spending by $39 million. It calls for not staffing one battalion command team, three emergency battalion offices, 15 fire trucks and nine ambulances every day for a year starting Thursday.
The “brownouts” would occur on a rotating basis at different fire stations throughout the city. The 87 firefighters assigned to those units will be used to fill vacancies on remaining fire trucks and ambulances which would otherwise have been staffed by off-duty employees working overtime.
Barry stressed the plan would keep all of the city's fire stations open and staffed with at least one fire truck or ambulance. Still, he admitted it would lengthen response times, further increase the workload at fire stations and make fewer fire engines available for pre-deployment to areas with high fire danger.
Barry has described the budget cuts as “devastating.”
Aside from “brownouts,” the department also plans to stop recruiting new firefighters and maintain only one academy class instead of the current three.
Even with all those cost-cutting measures, the Fire Department remains $13 million in the red.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has asked the City Council to close the department's deficit by transferring money from the Reserve Fund, but Councilman Bernard Parks, chair of the council's Budget and Finance Committee, told the Los Angeles Times there's no guarantee the city will have that cash available.
If funding cannot be secured, Barry plans to shut down an additional eight fire resources -- either fire trucks or ambulances -- every day for a year, resulting in a total of 125 fewer fire department personnel working daily.
UFLAC has dismissed the brownouts as “a cynical effort to leverage us in contract negotiations.”
After four months of negotiations, the city has made only one contract offer, which the union described as “an insult.”
UFLAC claimed the city wants to permanently slash up to 20 percent of pay from some of the lowest-paid, most at-risk firefighters, and take between 10 percent and 15 percent from everyone else. The proposal does not come with any guaranteed pay raises or protections against layoffs or furloughs.
Last week, UFLAC made a counter-offer that would supposedly save the city $4 million to $5 million this budget year.
“Our intention is to provide savings equivalent to more than a month of the mayor's company-closure plan, with the hope that the city won't look a gift horse in the mouth,” according to the union's Web site. Details of the counter-offer were not disclosed.
In the meantime, UFLAC has a pending Unfair Labor Practices complaint against the Fire Department for “unilaterally developing and implementing this closure plan without meeting and conferring as required by law.”
UFLAC represents about 3,500 rank-and-file sworn members of the Fire Department.