Saturday, October 3, 2009

Say "NO" to Special Warrant Article

The Special Town Meeting Warrant article that would limit the ability of our firefighters to determine their own working conditions is bad management, ill conceived policy and inappropriate for a town meeting vote. The article reads: "No employee of the Town shall be regularly scheduled to work for the Town more than 14 continuous hours in any midnight to midnight 24 hour period."

There will be a public forum on October 7th at 7:00pm to discuss the proposed charter amendment. The Special Town Meeting to pass the article is scheduled for October 27th.

Working conditions, including shifts and hours, are part of the collective bargaining process and involve administrative and professional technical issues that the general public is ill equip to judge appropriately. The proposed article not only interferes with the administration of the fire service, it would also apply to all town employees regardless of department, position, or activity, making it a prime example of a “one size fits all” policy that will certainly set a bad precedent and very likely produce serious unintended consequences. Our town employs a wide variety of professionals, who operate with distinct professional standards and methods. One size will not fit all.

Why has this article been proposed? Twenty-four hour shifts are common in our area and around the country. There is no evidence that such shifts lead to reductions in public safety, fire service efficiency or effectiveness. Nor have such shifts increased public safety expenditures to communities. Indeed, cost savings have been achieved.

Concerns over sleep-deprived fire fighters on 24-hour shifts are unwarranted. In fact, 24-hour shifts reduce the likelihood of tired firefighters. Presently, most fire fighters need a second job and are more likely to go directly from their 2nd job to their fire department 10-14 hour shift. Twenty-four hour shifts allow for more reasonable scheduling of 2nd jobs and increased on-duty rest opportunities for fire fighters. By accommodating the difficult schedules of our fire fighters, we help maintain high morale and signal our respect for their time, sacrifice, and professionalism. Allowing the general public to dictate working conditions sends these dedicated public service professionals a very different message, especially if it makes it harder for them to make ends meet.

A final criticism without foundation is the concern over changes to personnel operations such as the administration of sick leave and vacation time. Since several local communities have these shifts, we simply need to ask our neighbors if there have been any problems related to personnel administration. According to a member of the Chicopee Fire Department with whom I spoke, there are no such problems. In fact, the 24-hour shifts have saved Chicopee money in emergency overtime, which is required every time a call overlaps with a shift change, something far less frequent when there is only one shift change per day.

This proposed charter amendment is an insult to our hard working public safety professionals who deserve our support and have surely earned our respect. I encourage my fellow Longmeadow residents to vote against this ill-conceived and unwarranted interference with the administration of the Fire Department, as well as the rest of our town’s agencies. It is bad management, bad policy, and bad politics.

Jerold J. Duquette

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