Ordinance to amend Hammond firefighters' contract causes tension

2014-04-05T19:00:00Z 2014-04-05T22:58:24Z Ordinance to amend Hammond firefighters' contract causes tensionMatt Mikus matt.mikus@nwi.com, (219) 933-3241 nwitimes.com
April 05, 2014 7:00 pm  • 

HAMMOND | Three weeks after Hammond firefighters and the city signed a contract, an ordinance pitched by 6th District Councilman Homero Hinojosa is causing tempers to flare.

Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. claims it's a political ploy to challenge him as mayor. Hinojosa says McDermott is basically "union-busting."

The ordinance would restore seniority days for firefighters.

Those who have served on the Hammond Fire Department for 15 years or more would receive an additional paid day off each year. Two days would be awarded for those with 25 years of service.

More seniority days would be offered in 2015. Those with 20 years of experience would receive three days, and those with 25 years would receive five days.

Hinojosa said he thinks McDermott is unfairly targeting the firefighters by cutting from the Fire Department staff, but not the police staff.

The contract signed would cut a total of $103,000 by ending a clothing allowance and a 1 percent pension contribution.

The city approved the same budget as last year for firefighters, and a portion of the new county income tax will go to public safety.

"The money is still in the budget," Hinojosa said. "If you're for unions, like I am, you would give the same contract to the police officers. To me, that's union busting."

McDermott dismissed that charge, saying the city reached an agreement. He said the ordinance is completely political to gain support from the firefighters union.

If it were to pass the council, McDermott said he would veto it to stand up for taxpayers.

The current contract will allow the department to hire two new firefighters, offer a bonus of $2,700 for living within Hammond and give a 5 percent raise over the three-year contract. Truck 1 also will remain in service.

City administrators said restoring seniority days will devastate efforts to reduce the city's deficit of $10 million because they will lose control of overtime pay. 

"I can't believe he (Hinojosa) put this down on paper, and didn't think about the actual costs to the city," City Controller Robert Lendi said. "It's just irresponsible how he says it's not going to cost a thing."

Lendi estimates restoring seniority days will cost the city about $275,000. A fiscal review of the ordinance will be prepared before the next council meeting.

"This is going to be hundreds of thousands of dollars. Has he done any staffing projections? Does he have any plans to keep Truck 1 running?" he said. "There's no thought put into this at all."

Hinojosa said no one from the firefighter's union approached him, but a high-ranking firefighter did. Ed Lomeli, head of the Firefighter's Local 556, said he bounced the idea of bringing back seniority days by a number of councilman, but declined to name who.

When asked about any interest in running for the mayor's position, Hinojosa said he hasn't made a decision.

Lomeli said the entire negotiation process was a "take it or leave it approach," and the union never had a chance to discuss ideas on the contract.

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