Fire Fighters rally around Pendleton local facing cuts

PENDLETON — Union firefighters from around the state traveled to Pendleton April 18 to support fellow firefighters. A 19-member unit at Pendleton Fire and Ambulance has had trouble getting an acceptable union contract for over a year.

More than 50 fire fighters from Salem, Hillsboro, Tualatin Valley, and Gresham and Portland rode a charter bus from Portland, while other fire fighters drove from Hood River, Klamath Falls, Albany, Hermiston, and Roseburg. Wearing the shirts of their union, International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), workers rallied at city hall, outside the convention center where an arbitration was underway, and in front of a fire station where the city has proposed to reduce hours of operation.

John R Wooten — president of IAFF Local 2296 in Pendleton — says the city manager is proposing that the fire department absorb an unreasonable share of an estimated $800,000 budget shortfall, while leaving a $2.5 million reserve untouched.

Firefighter salaries range from $53,000 to $70,000, not counting overtime. Under the city’s proposal, firefighter compensation would be cut slightly by changing the definition of full time. Firefighters would be given a less generous health plan. And one of Pendleton’s two city-staffed fire stations would operate less than 24 hours a day. The city is also asking for various changes to contract language — which Wooten says would weaken the union’s ability to protect workers.

The unit’s previous union contract expired June 30, 2005 without a new agreement in place. Because firefighters are not allowed to strike under Oregon’s Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act, when the two sides determine they can’t reach agreement, the contract is decided by a binding arbitrator.

In this case, the arbitrator will hear final arguments from the two sides May 19, and is expected to make a decision at the beginning of June.

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