Last updated: February 19. 2013 8:25PM - 583 Views

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WILKES-BARRE ‚?? City firefighters are taking their battle outside City Hall today to protest Mayor Tom Leighton‚??s decision that furloughed 11 firefighters last week.

Mike Bilski, president of Local 104 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, and Shawn Williams, Local 104‚??s vice president for public relations, said firefighters will picket beginning at 9 a.m.

Signs have already been made up for the picket.

Leighton furloughed 11 firefighters in an attempt to ease financial strain on the city budget he blamed on revenue shortfalls. Four employees in the city‚??s Department of Public Works were furloughed on Friday.

Leighton has asked unions representing city employees for concessions, including giving back three paid federal holidays and a pay raise freeze for 2013.

‚??The administration hopes that all members of Local 104, as all city unions should, immediately take a vote on the requested one-year 3 percent salary freeze that collectively will save taxpayers $500,000 in 2013,‚?Ě Leighton said. ‚??We have no objections to the planned picketing tomorrow at City Hall but the only bearing on rehiring of any furloughed employees will be the strength of city finances.‚?Ě

Bilski expressed concerns the firefighter furloughs place public safety in jeopardy. He said 11 on-duty firefighters per shift are not sufficient to cover the city‚??s seven square miles and 40,000 residents.

Furloughs have already forced the city to pay overtime.

Three overtime shifts were needed to be filed over the weekend due to the furloughs that took effect Saturday, Bilski said, while projecting about 80 overtime shifts will be needed to complement 11 on-duty firefighters per shift through the end of the year.

Union officials said the furloughs could not have happened at a worse time.

Those firefighters who were furloughed had less seniority and had their vacations in the summer, while firefighters with seniority are scheduled for vacations this month. Bilski said vacations will need to be covered with overtime.

Vacations in 2012 were scheduled in November 2011.

‚??We had the fire on Hurley Street on Friday and we would have lost that block if it weren‚??t for two engines,‚?Ě Bilski said. ‚??If the city goes below two engines, all I can say is pray.‚?Ě

Edward Lewis, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 829-7196.

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