Baltimore firefighters and fire officers voted overwhelmingly last night to accept an agreement with the city that will save the jobs of 252 firefighters.
By a margin of 967 to 400, the union agreed in essence to give up a 6 percent pay increase it won through binding arbitration earlier this year and which was to have gone into effect last July 1.
In exchange, the city agreed to funnel more than $3 million it had set aside to cover the pay increase into the fire department budget, thereby avoiding the job cutbacks.
"We are satisfied the proposal accomplished the things we set out to do. I am happy," said Jeffrey A. DeLisle, president of Baltimore Fire Fighters Local 734, after the vote.
The issue divided many older firefighters, who were determined to hold on to their pay increase, against younger firefighters whose jobs might have been lost.
Most firefighters who were at the Poly-Western school complex for the vote greeted the news with euphoria, knowing that the jobs of comrades, brothers and sons would be spared.
"This is the best thing we've heard for two months," said Edward C. Arnold, a firefighter for a little more than a year who would have been laid off had the pact been defeated yesterday. "I just thank all the guys who supported us. That took an unselfish act."
But many others, who voted against the pact, bitterly complained that the union had been betrayed by Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. Opponents also pointed out that the agreement only staves off layoffs through the remainder of the fiscal year ending June 30, meaning that they could be forced to accept layoffs later.
The agreement does not affect the planned closing of five fire stations and consolidation of 13 fire companies to partially offset the loss of $29 million in state aid.