Issue 2 Undermines Firefighter Safety

Helene Miller

Every so often, the fire alarm goes off in your dorm at 3 a.m. It’s usually some drunk girl burning popcorn or some dude doing some recreational activities. What if this time it was an honest to God fire? The firefighters will come to put it out, right?

Citizens seem to take them for granted. They’re always there when people need them, day or night, rain or shine or snow. Senate Bill 5, now referred to as Issue 2, may harm the way firefighters negotiate for things that ultimately protect citizens and fellow firefighters.

The Kent firefighters see Issue 2 as an attack on labor unions. According to Lieutenant David Moore, as things are now, they have a good relationship with the city. Through current agreements, the firefighters can make sure they have enough staff to be safe and the city can’t make crazy budget requests. These agreements, and many others, are put in place through collective bargaining between labor unions and the government, and Issue 2 is threatening these agreements.

“One of the most powerful and influential [unions] in our state is the public unions, and so I think that’s what they’re trying to weaken,” Moore said. “If they weaken those unions, and make those less powerful and having less say, then all the other unions will kind of follow in suit.”

Captain Dave Manthey said the government is trying to make the labor unions out as the bad guys. Many of the arguments for Issue 2 discuss how firefighters and police officers have these “huge” pensions. They’ve always had pensions. Manthey explained how their pensions are self-perpetuating and have only their money and the city’s money to thank for it. He thinks the state shouldn’t have any say in pensions that they have no money in. People also have to consider the fact that firefighters don’t receive social security benefits; their pensions are how they survive once they retire.

People also think that firefighters make a ridiculous amount of money. In reality, they just don’t. According to the United States Department of Labor, as of May 2008, the pay for the average firefighter was $21.97 an hour. While that may sound like a huge number for a college student, it’s comes up to about $45,000 a year before taxes, not that much compared to most other professions.

“We make a certain amount of money to risk our lives,” Moore said.

Moore went on to explain that the Kent firefighters understand that the city is hurting during the recession, which is why they have been putting more into their healthcare in the last 10 years. They understand that they won’t be getting raises every year. The city needs that money too. At the same time, Issue 2 could compromise all of that.

The governor’s office put out a press release in February claiming that an analysis by the Office of Collective Bargaining found that state and local government could have saved $1.3 billion in 2010. In a time when the state is in a deficit, this is a lot of money. Taking away pensions, increasing healthcare contributions and reducing the amount of raises are ways that the state will be reclaiming this money should Issue 2 pass in November.

Manthey said many of his friends from back in high school went off to become executives with company cars and matching 401k plans. A bad day for them is losing a client’s money. A bad day for a firefighter is being unable to save someone’s life.

Lieutenant Paul Bevere also mentioned that Governor Kasich said he wanted to negotiate with the unions, but when the unions when into talk, it was completely one-sided. He said that Kasich wanted to keep everything that was already in Senate Bill 5 and was willing to only make a small amendment. The unions decided to take their chances on voting day.

What if Issue 2 passes? Bevere explained that while the city could save money through staffing and funding cutbacks, it would be dangerous for the firefighters. If they don’t have the backup to go into a house fire, their own men could be at risk, as well as the person in the house. The city could save money, but the quality of care would decrease as a result.

Manthey said the city has always taken care of the fire department in the past and hopes that trusted relationship continues in the future.