Sisters & Brothers,
Yesterday was an amazing day of celebration of Tory Carlon’s Life. Tomorrow, we will be supporting our Fire Family and continuing the healing and hope. We look forward to time spent together and we ask you to keep the Carlons, the Sandovals in your prayers, and all Firefighters and their families who are trying to heal and turn grief into hope.
While we want to be able to focus on healing and celebrating the life of a wonderful family man, and support for the Sandovals and those who need it, we also want to provide an update to you, our members, on the events of the past few weeks and what your Union is doing to help create better working conditions for our members and prevent this from ever happening again.
The past two weeks Local 1014 resurrected negotiations on staffing and began negotiating with the Department on short-term and medium-term solutions as we set a course to long-term improvements to our working conditions. While this incident is exceptional in many ways, there are certain inescapable job-related items that are highlighted as a result. We continue to work to provide some solutions to help with staffing and station working conditions.
TOWN HALL MEETING
While we met with the Department immediately following the incident to begin negotiating changes, on June 12th the Department hosted a “Town Hall” meeting with the Union to hear thoughts and issues that are heavy on our minds during this time. The town hall provided a forum for members to express their thoughts, concerns, and frustrations to the Fire Chief and to the Union as well. Members spoke to issues that are affecting their working conditions in a negative way.
BOS ACCOUNTABILITY SUPPORT
The Union invited Supervisor Kathryn Barger. She came to hear directly and take issues back to the Board of Supervisors. Together with Supervisor Janice Hahn, Supervisor Barger is working with Local 1014 on a motion to help effect some real change related to behavioral health and staffing. We thank her for her continued support and love of our membership. We know that with them on our side we will make real change in our Department. They care deeply about our organization and our people.
Our job in so many ways is an amazing place to work for pay, benefits, and retirement. We recognized the work on legislation and state level action for cancer presumption, peer support resources, post-traumatic stress presumption, health and safety laws, and more. There is not one ungrateful member of our Department and everyone had perspective on the great things we have attained and how we can take care of our families financially and more.
Having said that, we have a lot that we can do to improve life for our members. At the town hall, we focused on areas we can improve like working conditions items and leadership of the Department, hiring and promotions, staffing shortages, lack of tools for camaraderie and team building, disconnect between the administrative side of our Department and the Rank and File, and a general feeling of lack of direction in where we go from here.
NEGOTIATED CHANGES TO HELP US HEAL
During the meeting, the Union brought up a number of items we have been working on these past couple of weeks. We believe that the immediate implementation of these items will alleviate some of the stress on our members. First, we have an agreement on bringing back team sports! We negotiated a new sports policy that will take effect July 1st. Second, with the lifting of the State order on June 15, we can bring our families back into the firehouses and begin to get back to our way of life pre-COVID.
In addition, the Union brought up the issue of online training and the stress and anxiety caused by the volume of online training and the inefficiency of the systems. This stressor has an impact on our whole shift and provide care to the citizens we serve. The Chief agreed to “toll” all non-essential online training for 90 days, and work to remove EVOC training. This training is often in conflict with other training and doesn’t work well on the system it runs on. Frustrating is an understatement when referring to online training. The Department seemed to not understand the level of dysfunction of our systems and how much that drives workplace anxiety and frustration. This was yet another instance that highlighted the disconnect between management and the rank and file. We will continue to work to permanently change this system and move to more in-person training. A systems analyst will be included in the revamp.
Another issue discussed was the lack of understanding and effort from HR to have promotional exams on schedule and every year, not in the middle of brush season. At our request, the Chief agreed to bring in a sworn chief to head up exams and to have a plan in 30 days for exams every year between February and April. This is a huge victory for getting promotions back on schedule and always having names on the list. The entry-level hiring will remain in full swing with seven classes this year and likely five next year. The only way staffing issues can be normalized is to have FULL STAFFING in all ranks.
Staffing remains the number one issue to tackle for working conditions and due to the Department’s lack of promotional testing and readiness, we find ourselves in a shortage of Engineers more than any other rank. The recent exam had 150 applicants. This will not net the number of Engineers we need to fill the nearly 200 vacancies. We are getting outside the box with a plan to reset the Engineer ranks especially the vacancies in the North region. This very progressive and problem-solving plan will also join the continued temporary regional recall plan and detail plan to fill vacancies in battalions with higher percentage vacancies in various ranks.
We have negotiated a one-time side letter agreement to the MOU to create an In-Service Acting Engineer position. The candidates will be selected by seniority only, be given an in-service training on the front end, and be placed into Engineer positions. They will be required to complete an Engineer Task Book with elements of Driver Operator 1A, 1B, and 1C as well as other County Engineer items. All-time will be counted towards AP category items in FFS sections, and the individuals must satisfactorily complete the 6-month probation. Upon successful completion of both, the candidate will be promoted to Engineer. The Acting FFS will earn bottom step FFS pay, and PM’s will earn the step of FFS pay to not lose salary. The FFS exam will continue and run concurrently, and candidates taking the exam may also be selected within the seniority draw to work as Acting FFS. The Exam candidates will have priority to be promoted as soon as the list is promulgated.
We encourage all senior Firefighters and those competing in the Firefighter Specialist Exam to watch for the announcement and if motivated to step up to the next rank take advantage of this one-time in-service promotional opportunity. This is a very radical way to reset the numbers between Firefighters, Paramedics, and Captains. We cannot catch up with the current testing situation and look forward to the annual testing plan to stay on schedule going forward. Good luck to all.