Firefighters negotiating to save their jobs

November 21, 1991|By Martin C. Evans B

The Thanksgiving season is expected to be a grim one for as many as 394 Baltimore employees scheduled to receive job-termination notices tomorrow as part of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's plan to pare $27.2 million from the city budget.

The Fire Department is likely to be the hardest hit by the measure, with 252 firefighters scheduled to lose their jobs by Dec. 5.

But leaders of two unions representing Fire Department employees met with city officials last night in a last-ditch effort to stave off the pink slips.

Although both city and union officials refused to say what issues they were discussing, the two sides recently have sought a compromise that would have the union drop its legal battle to recover a 6 percent pay increase for its members in exchange for a promise that the city would not fire any firefighters.

Labor Commissioner Jesse E. Hoskins said yesterday that the two sides agreed to reconvene after a Tuesday meeting resulted in "progress." He would not comment further.

"Both sides have agreed not to say anything," Mayor Schmoke said, referring to the negotiations with firefighters.

Mr. Schmoke has been saying the city would have to fire employees since Oct. 1, when Gov. William Donald Schaefer announced cuts in state aid to the city to make up for a projected $450 million shortfall in the state budget.

The terminations ordered by the mayor also would include: 41 people in the library system; 23 people in the housing department; 16 people in the Sheriff's Department; 14 each in the Health Department and the Recreation and Parks Department; eight in employee development; seven at the Baltimore Museum of Art; five each in the finance and audits departments; four in the City Life museums; four in the mayor's office; and one in the Planning Department.

Mr. Schmoke has repeatedly said staffing levels at the Fire Department are based on antiquated notions dating back to the early part of this century and that the department could be significantly reduced without jeopardizing public safety. But the mayor, whose decision last spring to withhold a 6 percent pay increase awarded to firefighters in a binding arbitration case was reversed this summer by a Baltimore Circuit Court judge, has expressed willingness to save jobs in exchange for a union agreement to drop the case. The case is being appealed by the city.

If firefighters agree to drop the case, the mayor has said he would avoid firefighter terminations by using more than $3 million the city set aside to cover its costs in the event it lost in court.

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