The Board of Trustees and the Professional Firefighters Association seem locked in a battle of wills which, if left to the extremes, will result in a seemingly unnecessary lose-lose proposition for both sides, along with the residents they each are sworn to serve.
The layoff of paid personnel seems an expedient and
effective choice to reduce expenses but it does not come without cost in the
form of missed reform opportunities, loss of morale, team destruction and
presentation of risk.
It seems essential to reform the scheduling and work rules
that led to a thirty-two man department to begin with. In the private sector (24/7 electric
generating plant) the six-man per shift staffing would be accomplished with a
twenty-four man department, including supervisory personnel. This is accomplished with four teams of six
working twelve hour shifts, four days on and four days off. Scheduling is simplified with the elimination
of separate teams for weekends or swing shifts.
The employees seem to appreciate the predictability of the scheduling
and the benefits of having four consecutive days off. Compared to alternative scheduling methods,
more is achieved with less.
If layoffs occur without scheduling reforms that preserve
current firehouse staffing, any event, however unlikely, that subsequently results
in arguably avoidable loss of life or property could put the village in a
position of defending a policy decision in the aftermath of a tragedy. Accomplishing needed budget reforms while
creatively preserving levels of service mitigates this exposure.
Other work rule reforms are needed to allow the volunteer
force to perform in full substitution to the professional force as and when
necessary, including the operation of equipment and dispatch of personnel,
along with any potential future expansion of the department to include EMS/Ambulance
Services, if desired.
The Professional Firefighters are seemingly being forced to
concede a reduction in force without being asked to address the essential
scheduling and work-rule issues, things that would be difficult for their
leadership to ever consider in the wake of forced layoffs.
A post-layoff department is likely to suffer from heightened
tension between the professionals and volunteers.
Over the course of the recent campaign, I
heard much about friction between team members from both sides – the professionals
fear loss of livelihood and the volunteers resent schedules and work rules that
are seemingly in place for the sole purpose of protecting those
Hobson enters the picture
when the Board of Trustees and the PFA must battle over important things like a
family’s paycheck and balancing a municipal budget while simultaneously not
increasing risk to residents dependent on the department for protection of
lives and property.
It may be easier for everyone to get on the same page and on
the same team if a strategic vision is scripted by the Board in consultation
with both the volunteers and the professionals.
If the ultimate goal is to transition to an all-volunteer department,
that should be discussed, disclosed and planned to be phased in so that
employees can plan their careers, the volunteer force can anticipate the pace
of change and financial metrics can be vetted into a long term plan. If the goal is to maintain a professional
component over the long haul, the size and scope of that component should be
similarly discussed, disclosed and planned.
Our employees are not the enemy, they are our family. If all parties maintain mutual respect, the
necessary can be accomplished in a respectful, good-faith manner.
Private sector enterprises go through similar restructurings
during periods of adversity. Essential
to the future of any business which seeks to thrive in the aftermath of
cutbacks is the budgeting (and financing when appropriate, feasible and
necessary) of voluntary buyouts, severance compensation and bridge periods to
follow-on employment for those affected.
When affected employees benefit from policies such as these that are not
legally required but morally provided, the transitions are made kinder. More importantly, those who remain proceed
with greater confidence that their employer shares some pain when downsizing
and has an interest in the members of the team.
Morale can be preserved, services maintained and the cost base