HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Staffing levels are at the heart of the rejection of a contract proposal from the city of Huntington to members of the IAFF Local 289. The membership overwhelmingly rejected the most recent contract offer from the city.
The city has dropped the current staffing level from 28 firefighters per shift to 22. The level is dangerously low according to local president Ray Canafax.
“We don’t feel 22 is safe for us or the citizens so we wanted the staffing level back up,” he said. “We have nine front line fire trucks and put three on each fire truck, plus a shift commander and give us 28. Currently the way they’re running us with 22 that will shut two fire trucks down a day and now we’re only running seven trucks.”
The vote comes only weeks after a number of fire fighters were laid off as the city contemplates how to deal with a growing budget deficit. Canafax and the union believe the city is sacrificing safety of the city’s residents and the safety of fire fighters.
“That’s part of it. It makes it harder to maintain an appropriate level of staffing when you lay people off,” he said. “We want our people back.”
Canafax said as a concession, the fire fighters were willing to accepted increased insurance deductibles, premiums, and a change in their prescription drug plan if the city was willing to return to the minimum staffing level. He added that didn’t have to happen immediately and they wanted that in the second year of the deal.
The old contract expired last fall and work on the negotiations has been underway for 20 months. Canafax says they want to give it another shot, but have not received any indication the city wants to return to bargaining talks.
“Our desire is to get back and get a contract that is mutually beneficial to the city and to the firefighters and to the citizens,” he said. “It defines our work rules. It defines everything and gives everybody security. They don’t want that now apparently. They’re saying they want one, but they don’t want to negotiate, so how do you get a contract without negotiation?”
According to Canafax, the new insurance plan is being implemented now since the old contract between the city and fire fighters expired along with the minimum staffing level of 22 per shift.