The Hoquiam firefighters union has unanimously approved an agreement with the city that would save the jobs of four firefighters who were going to be laid off.
Union President Doug Stankavich announced the results of Tuesday night’s vote Thursday morning.
“Our desire through these discussions has always been to provide safety for the citizens and our staff. We will continue to work with the city to maintain that level of safety while also trying to ease the burden on the budget through our continued negotiations to settle our expired contract,” Stankavich said Thursday.
The agreement states the four firefighters who were slated for layoff May 29 will stay through December, at which point the city and the union will review the Hoquiam Fire Department’s financial situation.
“The city is hopeful that the changes made to the handling of ambulance transfers will result in enough increased revenue to get the city back to a balanced budget by the year end,” City Administrator Brian Shay said last week. “This agreement is a good start to collectively address a long-term solution to our serious budget problems.”
The agreement spells out changes to the handling of ambulance transfers, out of town calls and non-emergency calls. The union has complained that current staffing procedures are unsafe because they sometimes leave only three firefighters in the station while the other two to four people on shift are working on non-emergency calls.
The city and the union have never agreed on the extent of the problem, but the agreement takes some steps to improve it. The department will make “every attempt” to maintain five-person staffing at the department, Stankavich said. If two firefighters are called out to Humptulips, for example, two on-call firefighters will come in to staff the station.
Staff will also come in to cover non-emergency transfers and MRI transports, which earn money for the cash-strapped department.
If one of the four firefighters who were set to be laid off should quit or find another job, Stankavich said the union has agreed it would not fight a decision from the city to leave that position unfilled.
“The loss of that one position will maintain our staffing at levels prior to the addition of a position through the SAFER Grant,” he explained. “The grant has run its course and the city would be responsible for all of the wages and benefits for that position. The staffing levels that remain will enable us to provide the highest level of safety for the citizens and our personnel while helping to ease the burden on the budget.”
Stankavich said he and the firefighters were grateful for all the support city residents showed during the negotiations, and encouraged people to stay involved.
“The sense of pride we have in our jobs and our city has been greatly bolstered by the encouragement we’ve received from so many of our citizens,” he said. “There is still a great need for the citizens to maintain their involvement with their city’s government. We encourage continued attendance at council meetings and frequent conversations with your councilmembers. These jobs are only guaranteed through December and we will need the support of our citizens to continue to be able to provide our services at our current level.”