By Seth Daniel
Everyone’s heard of the Naked Gun and maybe even the Naked Fish, but so far, there hasn’t been any instances of the Naked Firefighter.
That will change, technically, as Revere firefighters have agreed to give up their annual clothing allowance – worth about 2.5 percent of their base salary – in order to stave off seven firefighter layoffs that would have come down on July 1.
In all actuality, firefighters won’t be going around naked, because the clothing allowance isn’t truly used for clothing, but is a stipend that is given to firefighters with the idea that they could use it to buy work clothing that the city doesn’t provide. The same longstanding allowance is also in effect for the police department and the Department of Public Works (DPW).
Firefighter Union President James Caramello said the union took a vote last Friday night and agreed to the proposal in a very close vote.
“We voted to forfeit something – not defer it,” said Caramello. “We voted to forfeit our remaining clothing allowance for the upcoming budget year in lieu of losing seven jobs. It was a close vote, but we had a majority.”
City councillors were full of praise at Monday afternoon’s meeting, saying that it is important for everyone to share in the burden of this crisis.
“I want to congratulate the mayor on making that happen,” said Council President Dan Rizzo. “We still have many, many more difficult days ahead, but we really appreciate everyone taking part in this.”
Mayor Tom Ambrosino said he was happy for the concession, and that it did help save jobs and public safety. However, he said the city is still substantially short on funds.
“Even with the [concession], it will leave us $140,000 short of the cost of bringing back the seven firefighters,” said the mayor. “However, it’s enough of a savings that I will recommend it to the council, and I expect to make up the difference in retirements. I expect two or three retirements in the fire department this year to make us revenue neutral…This is a significant union concession.”
Firefighters deferred some of their clothing allowance this past spring in order to prevent layoffs in this current budget year. That money will be repaid to them later. However, the vote taken last Friday means they will never see that money again.
About one month ago, the firefighters union, in another close vote, didn’t approve a proposal by Mayor Tom Ambrosino that would have deferred all pay increases until next year.
Since then, Caramello said he has lobbied the membership to make the clothing allowance concession.
“As bittersweet as a concession is, it was necessary for our members to do it and we stepped up,” said Caramello. “It looks like everything is on the right track to keep these seven firefighters. We didn’t follow anyone else’s lead. We were the only union that forfeited something. The mayor doesn’t have to pay us back.”
Other unions, such as the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the Superior [Police] Officer’s Union, voted to defer their wage increases in the coming budget year to prevent layoffs. That means in July 2010, the city must pay those increases or renegotiate.
Firefighters will still receive their contractual pay increases this year.
Many wondered aloud about whether the Police Patrolmen’s Union had received the same consideration. It appears that union got the most raw deal. Not only have they been cut by nine officers this spring, but also they are looking at losing funding for Quinn Bill payments – a salary provision that increases their pay for having college degrees.
“They’ve never been inclined to do that,” said the mayor, referring to the clothing allowance for the police. “We talked about them looking to clothing to provide money back to the city…They could bring back some officers by giving up some clothing.”