As reported by trentonian.com, Trenton firefighters are bracing for a major shake-up and legal battle as the State of New Jersey encourages Mayor Tony Mack’s administration to institute a restructuring plan that fire department insiders say violates the firefighters’ contracts and may force unions to go on the offensive.
The plan calls for the creation of a rank the Trenton Fire Department (“TFD”) never had before, lieutenant, bringing back the rank of deputy chief, which the TFD had before it was eliminated to make way for a director position, and eliminating the rank of captain. Currently, the TFD has three ranks, firefighter, captain, and battalion chief, and a director. The restructuring plan calls for the ranks of firefighter, lieutenant, battalion chief, deputy chief and a director. All but a few captains, who will be promoted to battalion chief, will have their titles changed to lieutenant and will receive up to a 15 percent pay decrease.
The Mack administration is referring to the change of title as a “demotion,” but the firefighters don’t see it that way. “It is not a demotion because with a demotion they wouldn’t be able to change your pay,” a firefighter who requested anonymity said.
Creating a new rank would also mean creating a new pay scale for that rank. Per contract, salaries are “mandatory negotiable,” meaning the Mack administration would have to negotiate the salary with firefighter unions and that the unions have a say in the pay scale dimensions, the Mack administration cannot arbitrarily impose a pay scale.
Or can they? That’s the question a judge may have to answer in the near future. According to TFD sources, Mack is not honoring a contractual stipulation that 45-day notice be given to firefighters who face layoff, demotion or any other major change in their public employment.
Last year, firefighter Union 206 offered a concession to Trenton that no union in this history of New Jersey has ever offered a municipality. They offered “straight-time overtime,” meaning that firefighters would be paid their regular hourly wage no matter how many hours they work. The union says that could have saved the City of Trenton $2.5 million since the time that it was turned down last year. In a recent memo distributed by Fire Director Qareeb Bashir, the City is now asking the union for another shot at that concession, on top of restructuring.
The plan is being instituted at the behest of former Irvington fire chief, Donald Hubert, who has become the state’s point-man on municipal fire companies. Union members said they would be fine with the straight-time overtime concession, but not the 15 percent pay decrease and rank restructuring the plan entails, which means the issue could likely end up in a courtroom.