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EDITORIAL: Dysfunction abounds in East Chicago firefighter shifts fight

EDITORIAL: Dysfunction abounds in East Chicago firefighter shifts fight

East Chicago City Council Meeting

East Chicago firefighters and supporters applaud after the common council passed an ordinance 7-1 to return firefighters to their former shifts.

Just when you think local government dysfunction can't get worse, a Region city becomes embroiled in a lawsuit with itself.

For the sake of East Chicago residents, reasonable heads must prevail in the conflagration raging among the mayor, City Council and firefighters regarding shift changes for the emergency responders residents rely upon in their most desperate hours.

East Chicago citizens must hope such reasonable heads can be found.

The East Chicago City Council and Mayor Anthony Copeland have been waging a battle, which has spilled from City Hall into Lake Superior Court, for control over the scheduled shifts worked by the city's 76 firefighters.

Late last year, Copeland announced he was changing city firefighters' shifts from a 24-hours-on, 48-hours-off schedule to a rotation of eight-hour morning, afternoon and overnight shifts.

Copeland claimed the move was being made to achieve cost-savings for a cash-strapped urban city.

East Chicago Professional Firefighters Local 365 claimed it was political retribution because the firefighters' union had supported Copeland's mayoral opponent in last year's election.

Copeland and his fire chief also argued that such a change of firefighters' shifts saved taxpayer dollars when the move was tried in Washington, D.C.

But Dabney Scott Hudson, president of the District of Columbia FireFighters Association, told The Times last month those claims were incorrect.

“Our case went to arbitration, and we prevailed in the arbitration case, keeping our 24-hour shift. In the arbitration, the city testified that the change would in fact increase costs to the city. Additionally, the health and safety, as well as cognitive function of the workers, significantly decrease working rotating shifts such as the ones they are proposing,” Hudson said in a statement.

Instead of finding a way to work this out, neither side of the East Chicago dispute is budging.

The East Chicago City Council voted to scrap Copeland's shift changes and return to the previous schedule.

Copeland then vetoed the council's vote.

Then the City Council overrode the mayor's veto.

Then the mayor, last week, issued an emergency order keeping East Chicago firefighters on his swing-shift schedule.

And Copeland is suing in Lake Superior Court, seeking a judicial declaration that he and his fire chief have sole authority to order work schedules for the Fire Department.

It's a political back-and-forth that East Chicago residents should find counterproductive and embarrassing.

East Chicago has a number of things to be proud of.

This spat isn't one of them.

End the nonsense and work this out without lawsuits.


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Members of The Times Editorial Board are Publisher Christopher T. White, Editor Marc Chase, Deputy Editor Kerry Erickson, Regional News Editor Sharon Ross, Assistant Deputy Editor Andrew Steele.

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