To the editor,
We read with interest of the to battle their current . Apparently the PR firm has decided that the union should claim that this schedule is “a safety issue.” It is not. The following are facts.
- The union and the town have both hired experts in firefighters’ shift schedules. All agree that the 24-hour shift is the predominant schedule in paid fire departments across America. All also agree that the 24-hour shift schedule is safe. These experts have devoted their careers to studying workplace safety in 24-hour operations.
- Bear in mind that firefighters are not required to perform actual work during their 24 hours on duty. It is “lights out” at the fire stations from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m. Firefighters are in their bunks during this time unless there is an emergency call and only a few of them generally need to get up and respond. Emergency calls come in, on average, three times a week for each station during sleeping hours. When firefighters respond, they are out of their bunks, on average, for less than one hour. After that, it’s back to bed.
- Firefighters are able to watch TV, read, or nap much of the rest of their duty time. It means that they get plenty of rest while on duty.
- Before the , many firefighters in North Kingstown frequently worked 24 hours or more in a row and received overtime compensation. The union never suggested such overtime was a “safety issue.”
- In California, the trend among firefighters’ unions is to demand 48-hour work schedules. If unions don’t believe the 48-hour schedule is a “safety issue” in metropolitan areas where emergency calls come with greater frequency, the 24-hour schedule is not a legitimate “safety issue” in North Kingstown.
- There are 25 percent more firefighters assigned to each hour of the day than there were before the change to a 24-hour shift. Every position in the department is filled, with extra firefighters assigned to every shift.
- Even with the 10 percent salary increase given to firefighters in March, the town will save about $1 million a year from the new schedule. The union wants that money. And it wants to work fewer than 100 days a year.
- The union itself has made a series of bargaining proposals, beginning last November, proposing that employees work a 24-hour shift schedule. It was not a “safety issue” then.
For the last five years, the town has had to reduce services, lay off personnel and cut costs in every area. We simply cannot afford to continue funding union contracts at the level that we have done in the past. Structural changes must be made in the way firefighting services are provided and paid for. The 24-hour shift provides some financial relief, about $1 million annually, but the pressure to adequately fund schools, water, sewers, road maintenance and other town functions remains.
We will not sacrifice safety. We have studied that issue extensively and based on expert advice the 24-hour schedule is the safe. We are willing and prepared to negotiate a new contract, but all issues must be on the table for discussion and any contract must be financially sustainable.
Liz Dolan, President
Carol Hueston, Member
Charles Stamm, Member
North Kingstown Town Council