Arlington firefighters debate city over benefits

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Arlington firefighters initially pushed to be moved from city employees to the Civil Service. And in May, voters allowed it to happen.

But the change came with a change in benefits, leaving many unhappy and ignited some fiery statements from a city councilman.

In the switching over from city benefits to benefits under Civil Service, firefighters in Arlington lost some things like carry-over sick days and vacation days. The fight to try and get them back is far from over.

Many of the same citizens who voted to put for Civil Service back in May for Arlington firefighters showed their support in front of city hall and again in a public hearing.

The Civil Service Commission, a three-member board which governs how firefighters will be hired, fired and disciplined, comes at a cost to the city of $580,000 per year. It operates under different rules than the city.

The main issue is Arlington city employees carry over sick and vacation days from year to year. But under Civil Service, they do not.

After months of negotiations, council members are voting to let firefighters keep sick days and carry over vacation days when they transition to Civil Service at the end of October.

"You're getting vacation time. You're getting sick time. You're getting a retirement system,” said Jay Warren with the city of Arlington. “They're good benefits that are included in that."

The city sees it as middle ground, but firefighters say it doesn't go far enough.

"These senior members who were deciding whether to stay one, two, three more years have put pen to paper and decided it's not a cost benefit to them to stay,” said Arlington Firefighters Union President David Crow.

In the past two months during negotiations between the city and the firefighters union, 18 firefighters have put in for retirement, allowing them to take advantage of rules that wouldn't exist under Civil Service.

There has also been an increase in firefighters calling in sick, which drew sharp criticism from Councilman Charlie Parker, who says it is orchestrated.

“How you can put the safety of the citizens below your personal agenda is beyond comprehension,” he said. “How you can denigrate the uniform and ignore your sworn oath speaks volumes to your lack of character. Shame on you."

When asked for comment, Councilman Parker did not respond.