An ugly negotiation process between the City of Arlington and the city’s firefighter union has resulted in a large number of firefighters heading toward the exits.
Amid what has become a contentious process to implement a civil service commission, 20 senior firefighters from the Arlington Fire Department have filed for retirement. An additional 25 of the department’s younger firefighters recently took the City of Fort Worth’s firefighter exam.
That is 45 of the department’s nearly 320 firefighters, meaning about one in seven of the firefighters is actively trying to leave.
Arlington’s voters approved of the adoption of the State Civil Service System for the fire department in May. Civil service “establishes the decision–making process for personnel issues such as hiring, promotions, benefits and the process used for disciplinary actions,” according to information published by the City of Arlington.
Implementation of civil service has been difficult.
“We did not foresee this being an issue,” Arlington Professional Firefighters Association president David Crow said.
There is a cost — about $587,000 in the first year — associated with implementing civil service. That money will go toward the salary and benefits of three civil service commission members, as well as purchasing furniture for their respective office spaces.
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The fire department will absorb the cost associated with civil service. But as a result of the increased cost, the city has tried to make other cuts from the fire department’s coffers.
The latest benefit that is on the proposed chopping block is the elimination of terminal pay — the accrued sick and vacation time that Arlington firefighters are able to cash in on when they retire. The current proposal is that once civil service goes into effect Oct. 30, any accrued terminal pay will be dropped.
“Right now our senior members are being put into a position where they need to make a decision whether they want to retire at an earlier time than what they had determined they wanted to, or do they want to stay and lose some of the benefits that they felt were promised to them,” Crow said.
Adding to the contentiousness of the negotiation process has been an online war of words between District One Councilman Charlie Parker and an untold number of firefighters who post anonymously on Parker’s blog.
Parker, who Dave Lieber of The Dallas Morning News suggested “may be the rudest city council member in North Texas,” has made no secret throughout this ordeal that he is not in favor of the civil service system. His blog is full of several recent posts concerning the ongoing civil service negotiation, as well as several instances of what can best be described as name-calling.
Parker told NBC DFW he has deleted several recent comments because of their content.
Some of what is printable includes Parker’s most recent post which included a graph that shows firefighters have taken a noticeable uptick in sick days during the civil service negotiations, what Parker calls “abuse.”
“I find this action by the fire union to be despicable, and that the actions of anyone participating in this organized labor action, to be reprehensible. These firefighters should be ashamed of themselves, but they have no contrition, therefore no moral compass,” Parker noted. “How you can put the safety of the citizens, below your personal agenda is beyond comprehension. How you can denigrate the uniform and ignore your sworn oath, speaks volumes to your lack of character. Shame on you!”