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Firefighters stop pickets

June 29, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Martinsburg's paid firefighters have halted their daily pickets of City Hall after hearing the city won't talk about wages as long as the public protests go on.

The pickets, which began on June 14, stopped Wednesday afternoon.

The firefighters hope to meet with the mayor and the city council to talk about pay.

The firefighters have been upset since a special meeting on June 13 when the city's police officers received raises far above other city employees.

City Manager Mark Baldwin said then that the city needed to immediately address "recruitment and retention" - to fill numerous openings and to keep officers from leaving for better pay.

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The firefighters felt slighted. They picketed for eight weekdays, taking off only for West Virginia Day on June 20.

The pay for a starting police officer was raised almost 22 percent. The salary of a starting firefighter went up 5 percent.

"We wanted to basically inform the public of what all had happened and let the council know what had occurred," said David Brining, a captain with the fire department.

Brining said the fire department has no openings now, but has lost three firefighters in the last 14 months to higher-paying jobs, including one in Hagerstown. One member is on temporary disability and the department will advertise the position.

A pay increase now could prevent the Martinsburg Fire Department from facing the same problem as the police department, Brining said.

Councilman Gregg Wachtel said the pay issue was probably the toughest "yes" vote he's made while on the council. He knew the fire department would be mad, but he thought something needed to be done for the police department right away.

A meeting to talk about pay had not been scheduled as of Friday evening. Mayor George Karos and City Manager Mark Baldwin were out of town.

Wachtel said he doesn't know when a meeting might be held.

It's unlikely to be Monday or Tuesday because about 24 firefighters have filed grievances over pay differences and those grievances may have to be heard then, Wachtel said.

Councilman Richard Yauger said the council couldn't talk to the firefighters about the matter the last few weeks because they picketed as a union, with union shirts and union signs, and the city does not recognize a firefighters' union.

Yauger said the council's Budget and Finance Committee, which he chairs, will probably meet with the council's Personnel Committee and the fire chief before the full council talks about the matter. The joint committee is unlikely to occur next week, he said.

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