Concerned that excessive overtime, brought on by a persistent staffing shortage, was causing significant safety concerns for its members, New Orleans, LA Local 632 made its concerns known through on-the-job action and legal action. Local 632 leaders will meet with the City of New Orleans administration March 3-6 to discuss real solutions.
“The staffing shortage has stretched our members too thin,” says 14th District Vice President Danny Todd. “That’s not only a safety risk for our members, but also for the citizens they serve. I am proud of our members for speaking up and not backing down.”
The City of New Orleans has budgeted for 632 fire fighters, but currently only 480 are on the job.
The city has difficulty hiring and retaining fire fighters. Despite the 10 percent raise in 2018, New Orleans fire fighters still make 25 percent less than municipalities of comparable size. Additionally, because of changes to the pension in 2015, New Orleans fire fighters must work 40 years to receive full benefits when they retire.
The city has over-relied on Local 632 members to offer to work overtime to compensate for the staffing shortage. Many fire fighters were working more than 90 hours per week.
“The excessive overtime is taking a toll on our members,” says New Orleans Local 632 President Aaron Mischler. “Because they are tired, they are at risk for on-the-job injuries. The fatigue also diminishes their ability to perform the job safely. That’s a risk to everyone. We had to do something.”
In hopes that the city would finally hear its concerns, Local 632 announced February 10 that its members would no longer offer to work overtime.
The city pushed back by cancelling all approved leave.
Local 632 took the case to court, filing for an injunction in Orleans Parish Civil District Court on the leave cancellation. A hearing on that request will not occur until March 20 or later.
In the meantime, the judge in the case issued a temporary restraining order, prohibiting the city from “generally retaliating” against any rank-and-file fire fighters who exercise their rights to free speech and labor advocacy. As a result, the city had to allow Local 632 members to take their scheduled leave.
As the issues are being addressed, neither Local 632 nor the City of New Orleans wanted to put public safety at risk during Mardi Gras. Local 632 members have agreed, in good faith, to work overtime during the celebration while city leaders have promised to come to the table in March to seriously discuss resolutions to the issues concerning the safety of New Orleans fire fighters.