WRITTEN BY LEE BUCCI Originally published January 30, 2014.
As someone who has been following the public-safety discussion in the city over the last year or so, I firmly believe the city needs to continue to seek new ways that will lead to long-term cost reduction for the taxpayers. This is not to say that these cost reductions should be at the sake of public safety. However, the city cannot just simply continue with status quo and not expect a significant financial impact on the residents.To the editor:
A number of things have been said in public, the media and/or posted on social media sites. which have raised significant questions for me.
First, during the recent council meeting, Councilman Simpson offered what is now being called the “Simpson Plan” in the media. His idea, which I thought was a good start, calls for new fire department hires to start at a lower salary. However, the councilman also said his plan would “leave the current members alone.”
The interim director of public safety pointed out at the meeting that the idea of different pay scales for new hires was already proposed to the union, and it was turned down.
So why is this idea being considered as new? Why didn’t the firefighters consider it before? Wouldn’t it have allowed the staffing issue to be addressed before becoming the “crisis union members have claimed it to be – such in the interview on Channel 40 in which union President Capt. Platt implied the issue could result in someone dying?
Also, under the “Simpson Plan,” how does leaving the current 28 members’ salaries alone help with long-term cost savings? Obviously it helps with the staffing levels, but it does nothing to address the extra stipends the members receive for longevity, college degrees (even though the city pays for tuition) and hundreds of extra hours of holiday pay – all of which increases their yearly compensation between 10 percent to 15 percent. It also increases the overtime rate which contractually calls for a three-hour minimum.
The other issue not discussed is the work schedule. The firefighters work one 24-hour shift every fourth day. Although they are “on shift” the required 2,184 hours a year, they only need to be away from their families approximately 91 days a year. Compare this to the full-time police officers in the city who work a 12-hour shift (182 days) or the normal five-day 40-hour work week. The firefighters’ 91 days a year is further reduced because they get up to 10 days of vacation each year, plus sick time and a personal day – allowing any number of workers to take off on a holiday, such as Christmas Day – resulting in thousands of dollars in overtime expenditures to maintain staffing.
Their schedule allows all members of the fire department to have additional careers, and the majority of them do. The “Simpson Plan” does nothing for cost reductions beyond compensating new hires less than the current 28 members, many of which will be employed by the city for years to come.
The second issue, which I find even more disturbing, deals with the public employees’ failure to maintain the level of professionalism that the public demands of its public servants. I personally have found some of the firefighters’ comments and actions in the recent past to be less than professional, but they have recently reached a whole new low.
The members of the Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 2657 continually shout from the highest mountaintop how they are a well-trained and professional fire department. They repeatedly state that only full-time “professional” firefighters can adequately protect the residents of Brigantine. They claim that a part-time firefighter or EMT (even one who is trained at the same level as the full-time members, and who volunteers and risks their life to protect other communities) could never be as good as a full-time firefighter. This implies that all of the communities in New Jersey served by all-volunteer departments are not being adequately protected.
One only needs to look at the union’s Facebook page – “Brigantine Professional Firefighters IAFF Local 2657” – and then ask the rank and file and the leadership of the department who is posting false statements, obscenities and most recently a disgusting (possibly pornographic) photo that is clearly intended to imply it is someone in the city, when they know full well that it is not. (If not, they would not have cut off the face of the man.) The photo is of a deplorable that occurred in a community more than 70 miles away in another state. What in the world does this have to do with Brigantine, the fire department, any employee of the city, or any of the discussions on public safety?
I ask the union membership, does conduct such as this not fly in the face of what would be described as being a “professional,” and does it not bring into question whether the department’s leaders are “management thinkers”? And before someone says the leadership cannot do anything about it, I would remind all of the members that silence is acceptance. If you do not speak out, even to your union brothers, then you are just as wrong as those who are responsible for it. As you all have pointed out, the department operates as a team.
As for the question of cost savings, the union clearly has no problem publicly taking members of council and the City to task about what they perceive as issues. However, in all of the public comments and rants, there has not been one word mentioned by the union about how they can help the city and its residents with the ever-increasing cost of public safety. I realize the collective bargaining process cannot be held in public; however, there are absolutely things that the union and the leaders of the fire department can put forth to help with the public discussion. When are they going to start? As they have repeatedly said, it has been almost a year.
The way that Brigantine has delivered its emergency services in the past was not wrong, because it worked for the situation at that time. Fortunately or unfortunately, the circumstances in the nation, state, county, and in Brigantine have changed, whether everyone likes it or not. Changes must be made, and I call on the leadership of the Fire Department and the union to take an active part in making the changes that must occur, and act like the “professionals” their name would imply they are.