Blame the Firemen  

I've been reading Fire on the Mountain again and a comment linked to Calitics. I've read the site before but never really got hooked by it, I mean, I don't live in California. Higgins mentioned that Calitics had some amazing coverage of an issue that is dear to my heart, so I headed over and was more than amazed, I was hooked.

Ah, those greedy firefighters. How dare they ask for a middle-class income? What gives them the idea that they can extort such wages?

Firefighters say their earnings are high because the department is so short-staffed they're forced to work huge amounts of overtime.

Since 2001, 30 firefighters have retired or left the department, and only three have been hired, said Vallejo fire Capt. Jon Riley, vice president of Fire Fighters Union Local 1186. And after rumors of bankruptcy began circulating, 14 more retired, fearing that their benefits and salaries would be cut, he said.

"We're having to work an extraordinary amount of overtime," he said. "We make great salaries, but if you're not able to see your family, what good is it?"

Firefighters typically work 48-hour shifts with four days off between shifts. Many Vallejo firefighters are now forced to work 96-hour shifts with two days off, he said. Sleep deprivation, divorce and child-care complications are common, he said.

"I'd say morale has hit rock bottom," he said. "But we're still committed to providing the highest level of service to the citizens of Vallejo."

Oh. They mean to tell us that firefighting is hard, grueling work, and that they should get fairly compensated for protecting the community?

To most of us, the firefighters' stand is common sense. Fire protection is something you just don't skimp on - unless you're Orange County conservatives (more on them in a moment). And it's not as if the firefighters are unwilling to help:

Firefighter union President Kurt Hanke told the council that the union reached an agreement late last week with city negotiators for wage cuts that would have reduced Vallejo's deficit to zero. But he said Tanner on Monday vetoed the deal....Leaders of public safety unions say the salaries of police officers and firefighters are high because they must work large amounts of overtime because of staff shortages. The unions have offered to cut the employees' pay if more officers and firefighters are hired.

Instead Vallejo's leaders prefer to play hardball and blame public safety employees for the city's crisis. And unsurprisingly, nobody in Vallejo seems to be discussing a tax increase to stave off these crippling cuts - which will not only compromise public safety, but further damage the city's economy. Firing workers and cutting everyone else's pay is not exactly going to help Vallejo's restaurants and small businesses weather the storm.

So, having read all of this, I went to the IAFF site and was disappointed, there's no mention of this. This city is using first responders as bargaining chips. I wonder if the Farm Bill's IAFF amendment had been passed in December, if this city would still be able to be such asses.

Prior to beginning debate on the Farm bill, the Senate unanimously agreed that each political party would be allowed to offer up to 20 amendments to the bill on any topic they chose, as long as those amendments were approved by a super-majority of 60 Senators. The two leading sponsors of the IAFF’s bargaining bill — Senators Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Ted Kennedy (D-MA) — jointly agreed that the the collective bargaining bill would be offered as a Democratic amendment.

After more than two dozen amendments were debated and voted on, Democrats moved to bring up our amendment. To the surprise of leaders of both parties, anti-labor senators, led by Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Mike Enzi (R-WY), refused to honor the unanimous consent agreement which would allow the Senate to consider the amendment. Additionally, they vowed to engage in parliamentary guerilla tactics to tie the Senate in knots.

Complicating the process, five key Senate supporters of the collective bargaining proposal are spending most of their time in Iowa and New Hampshire as they run for president. DeMint and Enzi knew that the IAFF would have a hard time meeting the 60-vote threshold without Senators Biden, Clinton, Dodd, McCain and Obama. While the presidential candidates had agreed to return to Washington last night, canceling their scheduled events for a significant portion of today to vote on the amendment this morning, there was no way the Senate leadership on both sides of the aisles could put the presidential campaigns on hold to remain in Washington indefinitely.

Of the list of Senators who "supported" collective bargaining rights for firefighters, only McCain is from a right-to-not-work state. Fascinating. He'd go against the will of his constituents in Arizona and support the collective bargaining rights of firefighters? Good thing his freidns DeMint and Enzi stepped in and made sure he didn't have to prove this. How very convenient.

Mr. McCain, if you support collective bargaining rights for firefighters, you should support them for all workers and you should also ensure that first responders aren't painted with a bright red target symbol by city councils.


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