Firemen’s unions are as gifted with the prose as their brethren are with the hose. “Cleveland Heights officials playing politics with fire,” reads a letter to Scene from Paul Hallisy, president of the Cleveland Heights firefighters union, Local 402.
The group claims that recent layoffs, which cut the force from 72 to 69, should have citizens fearing for their lives. Even worse: It seems the city passed on a $458,000 federal grant that would have allowed it to hire three more firefighters rather than whack three.
But apparently, playing politics goes both ways: Cleveland Heights fire chief Kevin Mohr says the city didn’t reject the grant; it became ineligible once the union refused to play nice at the bargaining table. When the city found itself in a budget crunch last year, it asked union workers across the city to extend their current contracts. The police did; the firefighters did not.
The union’s version goes this way: “Local 402 offered to forego raises for its members in exchange for a promise not to lay off fire fighters or paramedics. The city rejected that offer. The matter went to arbitration, and a ruling was issued granting extremely modest raises. The city responded to that decision by laying off fire fighters and paramedics.”
What isn’t mentioned is that those modest raises would have to come out of the fire budget because everybody else — including police, who got no raise, and non-union workers, who were treated to ten furlough days — already gave their pound of flesh.
The federal grant was no good for offsetting such expenses, and it couldn’t be accepted at all once the layoffs were made. These minor points are not mentioned by the union.
“There was a stipulation that the money can only be used for [hiring three new firefighters],” Chief Mohr says. “And the rules say you cannot lay off any firefighters after applying for the grant.”
So rest easy, citizens of Cleveland Heights. And call the Shaker Fire Department in the event of an emergency.