New Orleans firefighters are boycotting voluntary overtime and other unscheduled hours beyond their regular shift until Mayor Latoya Cantrell and her administration agree to an across-the-board pay raise for all ranks and a fair overtime pay system so they are on even footing with other first responders.
The boycott on overtime won’t have an impact on the Carnival parades later this month, where on-duty firefighters are assigned. But it could cause problems during upcoming major events such as Jazz Fest or the New Orleans Pelicans games, where firefighters are required to be present due to fire risks posed by outdoor food vendors and pyrotechnics. Those events are generally staffed by off-duty firefighters working voluntarily.
The firefighters’ union says the boycott is necessary since during the last decade the fire department staff has decreased by 25% while calls have increased 150%. The union claims the department, at roughly 450 members, is the smallest it’s been in the agency’s 128-year history.
As a result, firefighters are being stretched thin, volunteering to work 96-hour work weeks instead of the typical 56- to 72-hour work weeks. They also don’t get the overtime rate until they exceed 212 hours over the course of 28 days. They’re asking that the overtime rate kick in after 96 hours on a 14-day cycle. Comparatively, New Orleans Police Officers begin overtime rates at 85 hours on a 14-day cycle.
Besides a $5/hour pay raise for all firefighters across all ranks, the union is also asking for the city to change its process for promoting firefighters to the rank of captain so that members are not unconstitutionally passed over for what they feel are political reasons. That issue was supposed to have been addressed after a December 2018 appellate court ruling.
The union is also asking for a uniform system that allows all firefighters to fully collect their pensions after 30 years instead of 40 years, which newer employees are facing.
The boycott on volunteer hours is a first step in resolving the labor issues. Unlike with staged “sick outs,” boycotts allow firefighters to continue to work their regular shifts and work mandatory overtime in the event of a serious emergency. However, if the mayor’s office drags its feet and doesn’t try to work with the firefighters’ union, the boycott could affect the city’s springtime events.
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