A flawed KC fire union contract
The Kansas City Star
Mayor Sly James and other City Council members have been patting themselves on the back recently for working out a new three-year pact with Kansas City’s powerful fire union. The council will approve it today.
The agreement is the council’s “most impressive achievement of the first year,” said councilman Dick Davis.
Sorry, but it’s not.
Start with this unsettling fact: The contract prohibits reducing the firefighting force beyond the 33 positions it hopes to achieve soon through an overly expensive retirement incentive for senior union members. Regarding the lack of ability to control how many people work for the city’s taxpayers, City Manager Troy Schulte conceded at a council committee hearing, “It does limit our flexibility.”
It does, especially when personnel costs account for the great majority of Fire Department spending.
And if the city’s tax revenues don’t pick up in coming years, Schulte would have to further slash spending and employees from other city agencies while holding the firefighters harmless.
The new pact also calls for a study of how the Fire Department provides ambulance service. So far, response times are too slow and paramedics are burdened with calls, thanks to an old-fashioned deployment model worked out by a fire-centric leadership.
Unfortunately, the agreement is silent on whether the existing deployment model should be improved.
As James, Schulte and others point out, the new contract does help assure labor peace with the union. That’s important for elected officials, who get lobbied constantly by union leaders on all kinds of issues.
But the mayor and council should look out for the best interests of Kansas Citians, not just firefighters, in putting these deals together. This one falls far short of being the council’s “most impressive achievement.” That’s setting the bar way too low.