WILKES-BARRE – A pending labor complaint by the firefighters' union did not play a role in his decision to bring back 11 firefighters laid off in December, Mayor Tom Leighton said Thursday.
The firefighters, members of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 104, are set to return next week, ending a more than two-month furlough begun to help the city close an estimated $2 million revenue gap in last year's 2012 budget.
The unfair labor practice filing had zero to do with the decision to rehire the 11 firefighters, Leighton said in a prepared statement.
The city was able to reasonably forecast stronger revenue returns that permitted us to bring back the firefighters as of Feb. 8.
He called the 11 firefighters and union officials on Jan. 24 to inform them of his decision to end the furlough.
The mayor and the union had been at odds before the layoffs. He warned the firefighters and the city's other unionized workers of cuts unless they agreed to concessions to reduce the 30-mill property tax increase he proposed in his 2013 budget.
But he focused on the firefighters in his effort to cut expenses to make up for the revenue shortfall. Four Department of Public Works employees laid off with the firefighters were called back to work before the end of the year.
The mayor kept the firefighters off the job even though city council included the wages and benefits for them in this year's $44.9 million budget that has a 25-mill tax hike and increases in other fees.
The union filed its complaint in mid-January with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board, alleging the layoffs were in retaliation for the protected activities of the firefighters. They included refusing to reopen the union contract and enforcement of a 2010 arbitration award of back pay to firefighters and $1,500 paid annually as part of a parity clause in their collective bargaining agreement to match any salary increase given to police.
In addition, the city made no attempt to bargain over the layoffs, or over the effect of (the) layoffs, the complaint said.
The firefighters have been working overtime to maintain a minimum staffing level of 11 for each of the two daily shifts. Two engines have been out of service as a result of the layoffs and other cuts in the department.
The union attempted to negotiate with the city before the Dec. 1 layoffs and afterward to bring the firefighters back to work, offering to forego the annual $1,500 award for a year as a concession. It also sought guarantees of no layoffs for the remainder of its four-year contract and hands off its 3 percent annual raise.
But the city wanted the call backs contingent upon concessions from the unions representing police, public works and City Hall employees.
The union voted on the concession on the day the complaint was filed and the day before the city was required to make the annual $1,500 payment.