Note from Bill: The following article was printed October 29th, 2007 in the Gloucester Daily Times, Gloucester, Massachusetts.
When I first read it I thought the author was talking about the Career Fire Fighters in Gloucester City New Jersey. It is uncanny how the two fire departments are so much alike even though they are 350 miles away; besides sharing the same name of the community they also share the same union problems. And it appears the City Council in both communities have a lot in common. Read on and afterwards drop me a line, I like to know what you think.
Gloucester Daily Times, October 29th, 2007 Source http://www.gloucestertimes.com
How many firemen do you know? I know a few, and they are the greatest. These guys are super-friendly. They take their work seriously, and they contribute to the tenor of the town, active in sports and community stuff. When he was little, one of my kids wanted to be a fireman.
Have you ever had a fireman come to your house? They are great guys, they are courteous, efficient, all business. When they arrive you feel they are like soldiers liberating Europe in World War II. You are so happy to see them even if it's just a smoke alarm set off by oven smoke. They are concerned first about the residents' well-being.
All the firemen I've met had a pretty good sense of humor, too. They're the kind of guys you'd be happy to have your daughter date...They have families, and they know things can go wrong in a hurry. They really care about the people they serve in this town. They are Gloucester's finest.
Have you ever been to a City Council meeting? When there is business before the council that concerns the firemen's union, there is a very different Fire Department there. I don't know them, I am just a citizen who happens to be at the meeting for something else, but these guys scare me. And not just me...The council seems intimidated by them. They seem to be there to enforce the will of the union. When they applaud loudly, you are careful not to clap, or not to clap in the wrong place.
They do not seem interested in what's best for Gloucester. They seem to be interested in what's best for the fire union..That was the scene two weeks ago at the last council meeting. There was a spate of transfers for what appeared to be the refilling of the overtime accounts, $400,000 of which had been depleted in record time. It was hard to tell because the six or seven items were rattled off faster than a Mississippi cattle auction..Each completed transfer was greeted by aggressive clapping; leaving no question whose brand was on the cash cow. When the last transfer was completed, they turned as a group and swept out.
Does it ever occur to our municipal unions that they could be killing the golden goose? That all the minimum manning, maxed sick days, sky-high detail costs, infrastructure, overtime, overtime and more overtime could be killing this city? It was pointed out at the council meeting that almost all the overtime was on weekends and Mondays.
Do you push it right to the breaking point, where public opinion turns the other way when you drain a record amount of overtime and want a refill at triple the past years actual? Think maybe compromising your demands might be a better way of prolonging the deal rather than suck the city so dry that goodwill turns against the unions?
What does this have to do with the firemen on the job? Nothing and everything. They work hard and want to be paid fairly. They should be and are. But how does the overtime get so out of line? The manning minimums seem to more about the union than about safety, but what are the safe minimums? I don't claim to know, but my impression is that they were fixed by the guys at the back of the council meeting and agreed to by mayors who wanted to win elections.
Now before you write a thousand letters, this is a subject that has been thrust upon all of us because the numbers are through the roof. I didn't start this; I am merely pushy or stupid enough to bring it up - on behalf of the rest of us.
Should we have volunteer firemen fill in at the substations when we're below minimums? Volunteer fire departments work all across the country. It would be better than shutting down stations and the volunteers could begin the fight until the main station guys arrive. And while there will be a huge squawk about their status, what's more important, safety or minimums? If the city and the union can't reach a compromise in the next contract, what is our choice? Shut the stations or pay through the nose and, eventually, go into receivership. That'll change a few contracts...There has to be a middle road.
Gloucester resident Gordon Baird is the managing director of the West End Theater and producer of the "Gloucester Chicken Shack" TV show.