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Firefighters Are an Asset Worth Saving

Firefighters Are an Asset Worth Saving

A Tulsa firefighter leaps out of a window while firefighters battle a blaze, Monday, Jan. 25, 2010 in Tulsa, Okla. [AP]

Tulsa World via YellowBrix

February 03, 2010

TULSA – The differences in how the police and firefighter budget negotiations played out in recent weeks could not be more stark. While firefighters and their leaders appeared open all along to working out a compromise beneficial to all, the police union leaders seemed hell-bent on getting their way, no matter the cost.

By the weekend deadline, firefighters by an overwhelming margin approved a cutback plan proposed by Mayor Dewey Bartlett. In so doing, they saved 147 of their colleagues’ jobs.

And, the police union got its way: Its members don’t have to take pay cuts and lose other benefits but their decision meant layoffs for 124 police officers.

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Now, the police union’s leadership is claiming firefighters got a better deal than their membership did, and they’re asking for negotiations to be reopened.

From where we sit, the differences don’t look all that different. And there certainly was the opportunity before the Feb. 1 deadline to attempt to negotiate the same deal firefighters got. One has to wonder if some in the police union’s ranks were calling the mayor’s bluff.

Turns out the mayor wasn’t bluffing. Now there’s a temptation to tell them, “You had your chance.”

But this is no schoolyard tussle. There are several serious issues at stake here. We believe the mayor should give the cops another chance to work out a deal that would save their jobs and protect the interests of the taxpayers.

For one thing, taxpayers have made a substantial investment in training the 10 dozen police officers who were laid off. That’s the equivalent of six police academies — a work-force asset that Tulsans paid millions of dollars to train and equip — and there are no new academies in the offing. Sending that precious asset to other cities because a few weeks’ worth of negotiations failed to produce a satisfactory compromise isn’t in the taxpayers’ best interests.

It also is not in the city’s best interests to let negotiations drag on for weeks or months. The budget crisis is so immediate and severe that there literally isn’t time for extended talks.

Cops shouldn’t expect to walk away with exactly the same deal firefightershave. It’s not possible to come up with apples-to-apples deals from department to department. After all, each has different responsibilities and educational and training requirements.

But if a similar deal could be negotiated in a brief span of time, then it’s worth another try. Cutting the budget is necessary, but preserving a multimillion-dollar investment that keeps our streets safer is important, too.