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Monday, June 22, 2009

Firefighters Union Fires Back After Supes Release Survey Implying SFFD Is Overpaid, Underworked

Posted By on Mon, Jun 22, 2009 at 10:59 AM

click to enlarge man_on_fire.jpg
Firefighters union head John Hanley dropped SF Weekly a line this morning, and shot us a quick one-page rebuttal to the Board of Supervisors-commissioned survey we reported on last week that claimed San Francisco's firefighters work the least and earn near the most among 14 Bay Area fire departments. This was yet another pot-shot in a burgeoning budget battle between the firefighters and supes, who have chided the union for failing to offer give-backs or up its work hours.

Sadly, Hanley and all his lieutenants with the Local No. 798 were in a City Hall meeting by the time we got a chance to actually eyeball his rebuttal, so our burning questions won't be answered until this afternoon at the earliest. But, for now, here's how the firefighters see things.

First and foremost, Hanley said it's not proper to compare the hours -- and pay -- of the SFFD to its neighbors in Oakland, San Jose, or Alameda (you can link to the supes' survey here). Instead, Hanley felt it was only proper to compare San Francisco firefighters' work hours to those of their colleagues in cities with populations over 350,000 and densities of 10,000 people per square mile or greater (this conveniently eliminates Oakland, which has the former but not the latter). Not surprisingly, the No. 798's survey has the SFFD working more than any other "comparable" city (the SFFD's 48.7-hour work week is more than Miami's 48, Chicago's 44.8, Philly's 42, Boston's 42, or New York City's 40). This survey, however, doesn't note how much those firefighters earn -- and, once we get a hold of Hanley, it'd be nice to know why these caveats make such a difference.

(UPDATE, 11:15 a.m.: Hanley notes that San Francisco's East Coast-like density necessitates a different style of firefighting than in neighboring cities. He claims "we throw bodies at fires" in an effort to keep them from spreading and fight fires from "the interior." This, he notes, makes for a more vigorous type of firefighting, justifying a shorter work week. He is unsure how much firefighters in the other "East Coast" cities named on his union's survey earn, but he suspects San Francisco's take home more because of housing prices). 

No. 798's next claim is a bit tougher to take. The supes have rattled Hanley's cage in the recent past by proposing SFFD employees work longer hours. The union's rebuttal notes that doing so "decreases public safety for residents and increases the risk of firefighter injury. If more firefighters are injure din the line of duty, worker's compensation and disability payments would skyrocket." This seems to be a stretch; worker's comp Armageddon doesn't seem to have occurred in the 13 other Bay Area cities named in the supes' survey.

(Update, 11:15 a.m.: Hanley is uncertain if fatigue problems have arisen in neighboring cities. He states that SFFD's contract does call for very good pay, but feels other neighboring firefighters have more vacation time and more generous benefit and pension plans -- and notes that, for reasons unknown, the SFFD has a mystifyingly high rate of cancer among its firefighters, which sets it apart from any other department in the nation.)

Finally, the union rebuttal claims that SFFD members have already deferred wage increases (though the supes seem to want more than that; they're talking concessions), changing work hours would require voter approval and not take effect until 2011, and needs to be reviewed by the fire commission.

In any event, it seems the fire burning between the supes and firefighters is ready to jump a few alarms and there's no containment in sight.

(Update, 11:15 a.m.: "Why is it the firefighters the board of supervisors is solely after? Do they have an agenda to pick?" asks Hanley. "They're acting as if increasing our hours will solve the budget crisis. Let's be real, that's not true. We're being scapegoated by a small group of the members of the board of supervisors."

Since when has six of 11 been a "small group"?)


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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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