I cannot remember a time when the WBFD was not at odds with the administrations of this city.
Then again, I really didn’t pay much attention to the goings-on in Wilkes-Barre until the wheels started falling off some 12 years ago. But once I did start paying way too much attention to what makes a third class city (mis) tick, I was basically appalled bordering on stupefied.
You know things are going nowhere fast when your company offers to shut down it’s operations for an entire day, devote it’s entire staff to cleaning all of Kirby Park in advance of the 4th of July only to be told that while that undertaking would be greatly appreciated by all involved, it would violate the contract of city workers.
But with the distinct possibility of some bad public relations coming about, a command decision was made, the park was cleaned and the union involved did not file a grievance after all.
I came away from that experience believing that if what you’re seeking is bona fide progress even in incrementally small steps, you ought not let any public union get wind of it. Did you ever wonder why the prisoners from Chase regularly clean the roadsides of our neighboring communities, but not ours? Because there’s a clause in a contract that forbids it.
The following Times Leader article suggests to me that the administration of this city and the unionized firefighters are on a collision course. And when these two immovable objects finally collide, one way or another, the losers will be the residents of this city.
W-B, firefighters exchange heated words
WILKES-BARRE – While the city awaits the binding decision of arbitrators on a new firefighters’ contract, Mayor Tom Leighton is openly critical of the union’s demands, which he says are too expensive and unreasonable.
With demands such as lifetime health benefits for spouses, birthdays off and residency outside the city on the table, Leighton openly talks of the possibility – maybe within five years – of a public referendum on the paid fire department.
“I think it’s premature to talk about that right now,” Leighton said. “But it would be for the voters to decide if there should be a referendum.”
Was that a warning shot? A volunteer fire department in Wilkes-Barre? Is that really a possibility in the foreseeable future? Yikes!
Surround and drown, boys.
The following excerpt clearly suggests that the administration is waging a PR battle that will not bode well for the firefighters. With practically everyone worried about a stagnant economy and a bleak job outlook (CV 12/18/2010-less than 20 job opportunities in the classifieds), the publishing of the salaries will not evoke any sympathies from the residents of this city.
According to Christine Jensen, city director of human resources, the average salaries – including overtime and other pay differentials – of firefighters for 2009 were:
• Five assistant fire chiefs, $80,479.
• 13 fire captains, $68, 066.
• 48 firefighters, $62,887.
Jensen noted the city hired six new firefighters in 2010, bringing the department roster to 72 full- timers. She said the average base salary for firefighters is $51,116, which means in 2009, the 48 firefighters averaged nearly $12,000 each in overtime and other benefits, excluding health care. The average sick time used per firefighter is seven days a year, Jensen said.
Okay, it’s official. Our firefighters are well compensated. Still, to hear the union honcho tell the never-ending tale, they are being screwed, glued and tattooed every which way. But now that the average newspaper-reading resident realizes how much they actually earn, those previously unenlightened residents will likely be more receptive to the mayor’s arguments.
When I started writing in this electronic forum in very late 1999, the then-mayor and the fire department were at odds over just about every conceivable issue. Now here we are some 11 years later, and the current mayor and the fire department are at odds over just about every conceivable issue. Seems the more things change the more they stay the same.
But what isn’t the same is the financial situation of the city, county, state and Fedrule Govmint. I think saying that we’re flat broke neatly sums it up.
And when grown men up and demand to be paid to celebrate their birthdays in this worrisome economic climate, they will surely lose the PR battle that is apparently well underway.
Good luck with that one.
I think I'll run that birthday gambit past my boss and see how he reacts. I figure he could probably use a good laugh.
P.S.--Because of random drug testing and DUI laws, the City of Wilkes-Barre is currently hiring Class B CDL drivers.