Carpentersville fire union clashing with village over scheduling

To hear Carpentersville full-time firefighters tell it, cost-saving moves by the village lead to slower response times that will jeopardize residents' safety. And they've launched a public awareness campaign, mostly through social media, to warn the public of what they view as understaffing of the village's three fire stations.

The village administration, however, says the firefighters union has “buyer's remorse” about its new contract and really is lamenting the anticipated loss of overtime. The campaign is nothing more than a scare tactic, village leaders say, adding that day-to-day operations of the village are not the union's purview.

“Management is in charge of the village, not the union,” Village Manager J. Mark Rooney said.

Minimum manning

The village and the union agreed to a three-year contract last month that did not require a minimum number of firefighters per shift to staff the three fire stations.

“We are assessing it day to day to day to make sure we get the maximum amount of resources across the village,” said Al Popp, Carpentersville's director of public safety.

But Lt. Rick Nieves, president of International Association of Fire Fighters Carpentersville Local 4790, said he's concerned as few as eight firefighters may be staffing the stations, down from the previous minimum of 11 or 12. The union represents the village's 32 full-time firefighters.

Moreover, he said, Station No. 1 is the only one that can respond to an emergency with both an ambulance and a fire engine, while the other two stations will send one or the other. Previously, each of the village's three stations could dispatch both an engine and an ambulance.

As a result, Carpentersville will likely rely more on the East Dundee, West Dundee and Rutland Dundee fire protection districts to make up for the difference in the staffing and apparatus changes, Nieves said.

“Here's the problem: We run 3,500 calls a year, and so when you have that amount of calls, you only have so many people who are able to respond,” Nieves said. “There's no doubt the times are going to go up.”

However, officials acknowledge the department has yet to reach an eight-person staffing minimum since the change went into effect Oct. 19. The minimum since then has been 10 total firefighters on duty and 11 on average, Nieves said. He added he was under the impression the village would maintain the 12-person minimum.

“But once we were advised differently, obviously now there is a problem,” he said.

The union has filed a grievance against the village on a separate issue, saying the contract was violated when three part-time firefighters were used to staff the fire engines.

In the meantime, the union has lobbied the public about its issues by posting on its Facebook and Twitter pages and meeting with a homeowners association and influential local businessman Tom Roeser.

‘Get with the program'

Rooney says the village is within its rights to staff a fire engine with three part-timers, a move he said saves money and keeps equipment in service. On average, a part-time firefighter makes about $15.55 an hour, while a full-time firefighter makes an average $30.04 an hour regular time and $45.06 per hour when on overtime, Rooney said.

A provision in the full-timers' contract pulls units out of service if there aren't enough personnel to meet the minimum manning requirements. It also says an engine company “shall be staffed with a minimum of three firefighters.” It defines “firefighters” as full-time firefighters.

But Rooney said he is using the same wording outlined in the contract for the 29 part-time firefighters, which lets them ride the firetrucks, too.

“I'm avoiding service cuts by using part-timers more effectively,” Rooney said.

The three-year contract costs the village $572,000 and includes 2 percent annual pay raises for the full-time firefighters, Rooney said. Lieutenants receive a 7.14 percent pay increase the first year and a 2 percent raise the second and third years, he said.

The real crux of the union's discontent, Rooney said, was his move to cut their overtime. Carpentersville is expected to spend about $100,000 on the fire department's overtime costs this year, and documents show the village budgeted $60,000 for the fire department's overtime for next year. The current contract is projected to save about $300,000 in overtime costs throughout its three-year term, Rooney said.

In the past, the village hired back a full-time firefighter if a full- or part-timer called in sick and a part-timer couldn't pick up the shift. With firefighters working 24-hour shifts, it costs $1,080 a day per employee in overtime, Rooney said. The new contract gives officials the flexibility to make staffing changes depending on any given day's demands, Rooney said.

“They resent at the negotiating table when I tell them that they have to recognize they exist as employees to service and serve the resident taxpayers of the village.” Rooney said of the full-time firefighters. “They view the village exists to pay them salary and benefits and pensions. They've had it their way for a number of years. They have to get with the program.”

Village President Ed Ritter backs Rooney and said slashing overtime costs across every department is one of the board's main objectives.

But Nieves said overtime pay has nothing to do with the union's beef against the village.

“The community,” he said, “has a right to know about the service cuts that they're going to be completing.”

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