Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s cash-for-concessions approach at the bargaining table has won him new power over the 12,000-member Fire Department. The deal the city just agreed with the Uniformed Fire Officers Association allows the fire commissioner, whom the mayor appoints, the right to pick the Chief of Department—the highest-ranking fire officer and the operational commander of the department (unlike the police commissioner, the fire commissioner is not in the department’s operational chain of command).
UFOA president Peter Gorman says this is a right that mayors since Abe Beame have sought. Under the current system, all the union members with the rank of Deputy Chief take a civil service exam for Chief of Department and the top scorer gets the job, whether the mayor likes it or not. Now the commissioner will pick the person from among the deputy chiefs, and the chief will serve at the commissioner’s pleasure. “One of our concession is, we agreed to support legislation that will make that happen,” Gorman tells the Voice.
Gorman says he was under pressure to offset the cost of the new contract’s 17 percent in wage hikes over four years, adding: “I wanted to minimize that impact by doing other creative things in the contract,” like rule changes and—following the pattern set by the police officers’ union—changes to the salary structure. In the deal that a state arbitrator imposed last year on the city and the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, salaries for cops entering the Police Academy dropped to about $25,000. In the fire deal, lieutenants appointed after March 1 will lose $36,000 over the four-year contract compared to guys appointed before March 1. Gorman says that was a better deal than cops got, especially since fire captains and chiefs “weren’t stretched at all.”