Baltimore fire unions voice concern over adding shifts in wake of cuts

Board of Estimates approves deal including furlough days

November 19, 2009|By Julie Scharper | julie.scharper@baltsun.com

Leaders of Baltimore's fire unions told the city's spending board Wednesday that they are concerned that the Fire Department is adding emergency medical shifts after the unions had recently agreed to cuts.

"We made an agreement in good faith," said Bob Sledgeski, head of the firefighters union. "Even if this money was found two weeks ago, we feel it is incumbent on the city to come to us and to say, 'What we told you five weeks ago has changed.' We think it's sort of unfair to our members."

After extensive negotiations, the firefighters and fire officers unions agreed to accept five furlough days and to forgo extra pay for professional development days in an effort to trim $2.9 million from the budget. The Board of Estimates approved the deal at Wednesday's meeting.

Fire Chief James S. Clack said that he learned last week that an Emergency Medical Services fund was on track to meet or exceed projections, a "little glimmer of hope in an otherwise very dismal budget picture."

The chief said that he planned to spend about $100,000 to staff additional EMS shifts until the end of the year after complaints from residents who said they had waited long periods of time for an ambulance.

"We're coming into the flu season, possibly a pandemic flu season," said Clack. "We've got to provide good public safety during this time."

The city has promoted the deal with the fire unions as a key piece of a plan to cut $60 million from the city's $2.3 billion budget. The city is coping with budget shortfalls in the wake of declines in projected tax revenues and state aid.

Earlier this week, the Fraternal Order of Police announced that it was preparing for arbitration with the city after talks aimed at slashing $5.1 million from the police budget failed.

Sledgeski and Capt. Stephan Fugate, the head of the officers union, said that they had not been told about the rosy outlook for the EMS fund during negotiations and that they learned about the additional shifts on Monday, two days before they were due to go before the spending board.

"We're not making accusations," said Sledgeski. "We're asking questions."

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