Carpentersville firefighters' union, village butt heads over proposed layoffs

Among ongoing contract negotiations, two Carpentersville firefighters are expected to be laid off later this month and more personnel cuts might be in the offing in other village departments, officials said.

A spokesman for the union representing the village's 33 full-time firefighters says the administration is compromising fire safety by reducing staffing below optimum levels, which ultimately could increase overtime costs.

"We have put forth a good-faith effort to reduce overtime costs by agreeing to flexible scheduling to react to manpower shortages, but sadly the village chose to use it ineffectively," said Rick Nieves, president of the Carpentersville Professional Firefighters Union, IAFF Local 4790. "The swing shift, a concept agreed to by the village and union in 2014, in which firefighters were moved from their normal assigned shift to another shift that is short-staffed, was an attempt to decrease costs during a time of need."

Village Manager Mark Rooney said the swing shift structure did not result in anticipated cost savings of $75,000 yearly, which the village set as a condition for not laying off firemen.

Since 2010, Rooney said, the village has eliminated 33 positions bringing staffing down from 207 to 174 full-time employees through reorganization, layoffs, and not filling positions.

Rooney said the fire department largely has been spared losing only one full-time firefighter during that time. The layoffs are necessary to reduce a projected $800,000 budget deficit this year due to increased labor, health care and pension costs, he added.

"We have to be ready to make some changes," Rooney said. "When 70 percent of your costs are related to personnel (salary, benefits and pension costs) ... changes have to be made, not just in the fire department, to address that deficit because it's a structural deficit of the fixed costs."

Other departments could be facing cuts. In May, the village administration will begin negotiations with the union representing 19 civilian employees.

Officials also are trying to reduce costs through attrition. The village hired a civilian employee as police records supervisor - a position previously filled by a police commander who has left the department. The commander's salary was roughly $115,000 plus benefits, while the civilian employee will make $80,000 with no benefits, Rooney said.

Last year, officials were projecting a $500,000 deficit, yet closed out the year in the black. If sales tax revenues and state funding come through better than anticipated, that deficit could be much smaller, Rooney said.

Nieves said the village shouldn't be laying off firefighters when other employees, including Rooney, are getting raises.

Rooney last year received a 5.5 percent pay hike raising his salary to roughly $167,000 as of Jan. 1, 2015.

Nieves cited a recent consolidation study, paid for in part by the village, showing a need for having four firefighters in each of the three Carpentersville stations. Station 91, located at 213 Spring St., covering the "Old Town" section of town, often maintains only three firefighters to run an ambulance, an engine, and a truck, he said.

Rooney maintains the cuts will not affect public safety, and any shortfalls will be made up from among nine part-timers. "Essentially, it is a minority of days or nights that we do not have four firefighter/paramedics in each station," he added.

Both sides return to the negotiating table April 20 in an attempt to stave off layoffs, which take effect April 22, and ink another deal before the current contract expires by month end.

Mark Rooney
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