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Over 50 San Jose Firefighters Set to be Laid Off

San Jose Mercury News via YellowBrix

July 30, 2010

SAN JOSE, CA – More than 50 San Jose firefighters were set to lose their jobs in a matter of hours Thursday night as the city struggled to close an $118 million budget gap.

Firefighters were also upset because the city may drastically change the way labor contract disputes are resolved.

Mayor Chuck Reed had a polite but tense meeting with representatives from the San Jose firefighters union Thursday as the city and union continue to battle over two budget issues.

First, the San Jose City Manager and union are at impasse on a labor contract, millions of dollars apart with no new talks scheduled. The impasse will force 53 of the city’s 720 firefighters to be officially laid off at 8 a.m. Friday morning.

“We know it’s going to put the community at risk, their property at risk,” said Firefighters Union President Randy Sekany. “Then it’s going to put the firefighters at greater risk.

Reed argued the city’s dire financial situation required that the burden be shared across the board.

“Every department had to take some hits: police department, fire department, parks and recreation, neighborhood services, management,” said Reed. “You name it. Everybody took some hits."

Ironically, the dispute seems headed to binding arbitration, a city charter process that allows an outside mediator to make the final decision.

But now Mayor wants a measure before voters in November that would limit the arbitrator’s authority.

“The city of San Jose has lost control over employee costs,” said Reed. “The average cost for a firefighter or police officer has doubled in the last 10 years.”

Angry union officials said a city charter change should follow months of public hearings, not a public vote on a ballot measure.

“Not ’Let’s come up with an idea – last minute – and throw it in,’” said Sekany. “And then somehow we’re going to educate the citizenry through the newspaper, sound bites and news clips. It’s not a safe way to conduct business.”

The city council will decide next Tuesday whether to put the ‘arbitration process’ before voters.