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East Chicago mayor, firefighters declare a truce in fight over work schedules
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East Chicago mayor, firefighters declare a truce in fight over work schedules

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East Chicago City Hall is shown.

EAST CHICAGO — After years of squabbling, the mayor and firefighters may give each other the gift of peace this holiday season.

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Lawyers for the city and the union, East Chicago Professional Firefighters Local 365, sat down last week to settle their difference over the fire department’s work hours.

Both sides reported late last week their talks were “fruitful” enough that they’ve agreed to move on to hold three collective bargaining sessions Dec. 6, 8 and 10.

While they weren’t ready to say an agreement is a done deal, they have been working “cooperatively” to set ground rules expected to bring the sides closer together.

Their willingness to parley wasn’t the result of yuletide cheer.

They were ordered to the conference table last month by U.S. District Court Judge Philip Simon to avoid lengthy litigation and a trial on how to schedule the firefighters on duty time.

Until late 2019, East Chicago firefighters had been used to working 24 hours followed by 48 hours off duty.

Mayor Anthony Copeland and former Fire Chief Anthony Serna changed all that two years ago, forcing firefighters to do swing shifts — three eight-hour morning, afternoon and overnight periods before getting the next 24 hours off.

Firefighters complained the new shifts were depriving them of sleep and family time.

The mayor said the new schedule curtailed budget-busting overtime.

Members of Local 365 filed a federal suit in August, claim the mayor was punishing them for supporting his 2019 Democratic primary election opponent.

The mayor has denied the allegation.

Judge Simon ordered the two side into mediation before Magistrate Judge John Martin late last week, agreeing to the collective bargaining talks.

They said they will report the results of those discussion to the magistrate Dec. 10.

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