Saturday, May 28, 2011

Get well soon - In our view: Firefighters' mystery illness has damaged their integrity
(Daily Gleaner Editorial, May 27/11)

What sort of sudden illness could bring down 16 of 21 hearty firefighters all on the same day? Was it the hamburgers at the union barbecue held prior to the Tuesday evening council vote or was it a righteous sense of entitlement that's to blame?

Fredericton city council made a decision - unpopular with some employees - to tweak its employee pension plan. That means pension payroll deductions will rise and overtime hours will not be pensionable. The aim of this decision is to eliminate a $37.5-million deficit, thus keeping the plan healthy and sustainable for the long term.

On Wednesday morning, 16 of the day's 21 firefighters on duty came down with something and did not report for work, thus forcing a dozen off-duty firefighters to be called in at a taxpayer cost of $6,051 in overtime pay.

The city's pension decision was responsible, timely and absolutely necessary for past, current and future employees - including the mysteriously sick firefighters. This was not malicious power-mongering on the part of council. It was good stewardship to guard the integrity and viability of the pension fund.

But we have to wonder if the 16 suddenly ill firefighters actually see the big picture. Do they not understand that a bit of pain now leads to long-term financial security? Do they not understand that worldwide economic recession has affected the pensions of many, and we all have to suck it up, take a loss and do the best we can? Fredericton firefighters are not exempt from that reality.

Here are some other questions for the 16 firefighters:
* Are you so far removed from work-world reality that you fail to remember than many people have no pensions at all?
* Do you know that many people, when they work overtime, are lucky to get equal time off, not even time-and-a-half off?
* Do you know that many people, when they work overtime, get no extra pay or time off at all?
* Do you have any idea how many hundreds of people would trade places with you in a minute?
* Do you understand that your good reputation with the people you serve has been damaged by 16 questionable decisions?
* Do you appreciate that the people you serve have to pay the bill for your petulant indignation?
* Have you forgotten what you do for a living, who depends on you and who pays for it?
* And finally, do you foresee acting like spoiled children for much longer, because frankly, we don't believe the public will stand for it again?

We know you do a dangerous job and when you're on the job, you protect us well. We also understand you're angry. What we don't understand is why you chose to threaten the safety of the city and its citizens with your anger.

At the end of the day, the city and its taxpayers have a $6,000 overtime bill to cover for your sick days.
Some residents are no doubt anxious about the ability of the fire department to protect them, both on Wednesday, and in the future, should this continue. Plenty of people are angry that you chose this action to make your point. You have lost the respect of a lot of your supporters.

So, we ask one more question: Was it worth it?

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