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Firefighters' schedule in hands of judge

February 12, 2002

Firefighters' schedule in hands of judge



By STACEY DANZUSO
chbbureau@innernet.net


CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - A Franklin County judge will decide whether Chambersburg Borough firefighters will keep their current work schedule or if they must switch to the schedule borough officials prefer.

Judge John Walker heard arguments Monday from the borough's solicitor, Thomas Finucane, and Eric Fink, attorney for the International Association of Firefighters Local 1813. Walker is expected to rule within three weeks.

Monday's court appearance was the latest move in nearly a year of negotiations between the firefighters union and the borough.

After meeting with the borough last spring, negotiations moved into arbitration in July, Pat Martin, president of the union, said.

During a hearing Jan. 30, the arbitration panel ruled the borough's 18 paid firefighters should keep the schedule they worked for the last five years - 24 hours on duty followed by 48 hours off - until it makes its final ruling on the contract negotiations.

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The borough contends the arbitration panel had no jurisdiction to make such a decision and the firefighters should switch to a schedule of three 10-hour days followed by three 14-hour days and three days off.

Finucane said the firefighters' contract signed in 1996 stipulates that unless new terms were reached by Dec. 15, 2001, the firefighters would automatically revert to a 10-hour/14-hour schedule.

"The panel has no jurisdiction or power to change the work schedule for 2002, since it was already expressly agreed by the parties as part of a collective bargaining agreement," according to a lawsuit the borough filed Feb. 4 asking the court for an injunction against the arbitration panel's ruling.

During Monday's hearing on the request for an injunction, Borough Manager Eric Oyer testified the borough would save money with a 10-hour/14-hour schedule, Finucane said.

The lawsuit outlines how the borough would save money by paying firefighters for 10- or 14-hour shifts instead of 24-hour shifts for holidays as well as for sick leave.

The borough also maintains in the lawsuit that firefighters would be more rested with a mix of day and night shifts and would allow the firefighters more work time since they are expected to sleep during a 24-hour shift.

The schedule also would provide the flexibility to staff more paid firefighters during the day when most volunteers are working their regular jobs, Finucane said.

Fink said there was nothing illegal about the arbitration panel's ruling so it should remain in place.

Martin said he prefers the 24-hours-on/48-hours-off schedule because it allows him more time to recuperate between shifts and see his family.

"Many think the 24/48 schedule is less disruptive of their personal lives and allows them more regular time with their families and for childcare responsibilities," Fink said. "It also results in less sleep deprivation, so they are more alert when they get a call."

In addition to their schedule, the firefighters and the borough are at an impasse on other demands, including wages and the size of the department, Fink said.

The firefighters want a pay increase to put them on par with the borough's police officers, Fink said, although he could not provide figures Monday.

The union also wants to double the size of the fire department to ensure safety of the firefighters and the borough's residents, Fink said.

Any ruling from the three-person panel on those issues would not come before March, Fink said.

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