Opinion: Ogdensburg Firefighters union rep says city has torn trust to pieces
To the Editor:
In early October 2020, representatives from Ogdensburg Firefighters Local 1799 met with Stephen Jellie at Ogdensburg City Hall. The newly permanent city manager clearly wanted to open negotiations merely 10 months into our 72 month contract; a completely unheard-of notion.However, honoring the concept of good faith, our group decided to meet. Our union determined that opening negotiations was not in the best interest of our members or their safety, believing that the agreed upon contractual concessions made were enough; the city disagreed, demanding to take more positions. Needless to say we agreed to disagree.
As the meeting closed and both sides amicably began to exit, the city manager memorably asked our three representatives, “Would you all work with fewer men for more money?”
This question stopped each of us in our tracks. We each looked at one another, and in unison replied, “No.”
Since the initial meeting, actions of this administration have put us there against our will. Drastic cuts to manpower have been made, resulting in fewer available bodies to do our job. Predictably, staffing reductions of this magnitude resulted in increased overtime costs and payment of contractually guaranteed hazard pay.
In 2019 the city paid $0 in hazard pay and $80,000 in overtime costs. In 2022 the city has budgeted 200k in hazard pay and $150,000 (realistically more like $250,000 if 4 on duty) in overtime. What changed between these years to create such a vast difference, and who is truly responsible?
The city is of course blaming our union. The mayor and city manager have consistently partaken in very shameful, very public onslaughts on our department and its members. Chastising us for simply honoring the agreement we made with the city while they do not; truly irony defined.
Even more ironic yet is the fact that the costs of the benefits we are receiving were instituted and drastically increased because of the actions made by this administration; they alone could stop those costs associated by hiring more firefighters.
This idea was clearly illustrated by Councilor Dan Skamperle during the budget hearing, but was promptly dismissed and/or ignored. Why? Because hiring firefighters isn’t their plan.
The city manager claims it costs the city $153k per year to employ a city firefighter. Since our initial meeting with the city manager, he and majority council have cut over 40% of our departmental manpower, or 11 positions. Given these numbers this represents a departmental savings of over $1.68 million per year, forever. How are these realized savings not enough? Couldn’t they presumably use some of these savings to hire more firefighters, making the city safer, while reducing overtime and hazard pay costs? Sounds like a common sense answer to the problem.
The fact is, the only solution for the city manager and majority of city council has always been complete decimation of our department, by any means necessary. We will remain in the mayor’s crosshairs as he continuously shames, attacks, and spotlights the proud public servants he was voted in to represent and lead. Any semblance of trust or good faith has been torn to pieces by the continued actions of this administration, not by our union.
Ogdensburg Firefighters Local 1799 wants to thank all citizens for their continued support of our department. We would like to ask that you consider the source of these vicious, deplorable, ambushes on the service we proudly provide. Every single member of our union wants nothing more than to proudly and admirably honor both the oath we took when we were hired, and the collectively bargained agreement we signed with the city. We wish city administration would do the same.
Ogdensburg Firefighters Local 1799