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Posted on Wed, May 12, 2010 : 6:50 p.m.

Ypsilanti firefighters take 5% pay cut, other concessions to avoid layoffs

By Tom Perkins

The Ypsilanti Fire Department won't face any layoffs for the next two years after the union agreed to a 5 percent pay cut and greater contributions to health care benefits.

The Ypsilanti City Council unanimously approved the agreement Tuesday, which will save the city roughly $200,000 as it contends with a $1.4 million budget deficit.

Fire Chief Jon Ichesco said the layoffs would have been “disastrous,” and said the agreement will allow the department to continue proactively fighting fires.


The Ypsilanti Fire Department won't see layoffs in the next two years.

Tom Perkins | For

“I applaud both sides - the firefighters for taking the reductions and the council for saying ‘Hey, we need to keep these people on board for two years,’” he said.

The 5 percent wage reduction takes effect July 1.

Because the three-year contract took 13 months to negotiate, it will remain in place through June 30, 2012. Employees hired after July 1, 2009, will pay 5 percent of their base wage to health care benefits and receive no city contribution into their flexible spending account. They will also begin paying for vision insurance.

Those hired prior to the new contract will pay 2 percent of their base wages toward health care benefits and will no longer receive $250 contributions into their flexible spending accounts. They will also see an increase in co-pays.

Ken Hobbs, president of the Local 401 union representing the firefighters, said it was the best possible agreement given the circumstances.

“We’re pleased as we can be while having to take a 5-percent pay cuts,” he said. “I’m glad we are going to avoid layoffs, and we did what we had to do avoid them.”

Hobbs said if layoffs were necessary, the department would have lowered its daily staffing levels from six to four firefighters. He said the agreement allows the department to maintain the staff it needs to meet state requirements for two firefighters inside and two firefighters outside a structure fire.

Ichesco said full staffing also allows the city to more easily move forward in negotiations for an enhanced mutual aid agreement. Some of the neighboring townships have hesitated to negotiate because of fears that their departments would end up subsidizing others facing cuts and layoffs.

“It’s one of the problems I can set aside for going forward with some sort of cooperative regional response,” Ichesco said. “The layoffs were a big concern. Now we can start posturing and looking forward."

Council Member Brian Robb said he was pleased the city was able to find an alternative to layoffs, especially as many neighboring municipalities facing similar financial issues are resorting to cuts.

“I think it’s great that we can keep our staffing the same, and it’s a very good step in the right direction,” he said.

Mayor Paul Schreiber concurred.

“I think it’s always better not to lay people off and I’m glad we came to an agreement on these budget issues,” he said.

Tom Perkins is a freelance writer for Reach the news desk at or 734-623-2530.



Sun, May 16, 2010 : 12:48 a.m.

gostate, Now I remember why I don't blog. I would agree with you on the military. I doubt there are any many police officers with 23 years of service in Washtenaw Cty. making less than $20.00 an hour. I am in know way saying they make to much. I do not now or will I ever pit us versus our counter parts in the police service. They are structured completely different for a reason and both jobs come with inherent hazards. In Ypsilanti we are an interior attack department, most departments are. Because we do our jobs well we typically don't have many fires that are a total loss, such as the one you describe. Our jobs are to save lives and property in that order. Yes, we all know the risks versus reward. Everyone wants to provide a decent living for their families. Entry requirements vary from department to department and many of those basic requirements are out dated. The only barrier to pay increases are the economy and a communities ability to pay. A top paid firefighter through July 2012 will make $19.29 an hour. Actually less than we made in 2007. Our benefit package is negotiated with the city and overtime is optional. Just a few facts. According to and this is an annual report. Firefighters in 2010 have the most stressful occupation. Followed by Corp. Exec., Taxi Drivers, Surgeons, Police Officers, Commercial Pilots, Hwy. Patrol, PR Officers, Ad Exec., and Real Estate agents. We work an average of 2592 hours a year, 40 hour employees average 1920 hours annually. average age of hire is 26, retirement 58, life expectancy 62. 62 is 10 years less than the average population. The Center for Mesothelioma attributes this to a higher rate of cancer due to working in hazardous environments. Fire is a hazardous environment. So I believe we earn and deserve any wage or benefit that improves quality of life. Enough said, I may never blog again. You are invited to join us at our 7th annual Pancake Breakfast today(Sunday) at the Firehouse Museum from 0800 to 1200. Thanks for your comments and support.


Sat, May 15, 2010 : 5:32 p.m.

@ken, Thank you for responding. I can see how my comment seemed to have negative connotations towards the fire department, and I really dont have negative feelings for public safety. Im very grateful that they do the job they have chosen. Im glad to see your opposition to a two tier system, and I completely understand that you must play the hand that has been dealt to you by the city and a poor economy. As far as finding a profession that risks its life for less than $20.00 an hour, I can think of several jobs: Military member, police officer, construction worker, etc Having a risk to your life at a job is irrelevant versus pay scale. Correct me if Im wrong, but if a building had fire coming out of every window and the roof was caved in, would you attempt to make an offensive attack (I think Im saying that correctly, I believe thats where you attempt to fight the fire from the inside). Point being, we all take calculated risks. As a firefighter, or police officer, or etc. thats part of the job that you signed up for, nobody forced you to become a firefighter, and you entered knowing the risks and the rewards. I think that given the current data that shows most fire departments require only vocational training and a GED or equivalent is one their biggest barriers to increases in pay ( Going off of current prices of fire academies and ems schools in the state of Michigan, it appears that you could become fully certified (fire academy and emergency medical technician-Paramedic) for just under $10,000 ( Thats not a bad investment considering the overall return youll get in salary. I did manage to find an expired contract of the Ypsilanti Fire Department on the web (it expired in 2007 it appears), and according to that, a 5th year firefighter makes $19.324. Just for my own curiosity, what does the 5th year firefighter make hourly under this new agreement, and what would you say the average yearly gross pay for your members was last year (Including overtime and benefits). Again, thanks for the job you do, and I am quite happy that the residents of Ypsilanti will not have their fire department reduced.


Thu, May 13, 2010 : 3:49 p.m.

gostate, I typically don't comment on any of the articles written about the Ypsilanti fire department, probably due to the fact that most of the comments tend to be positive. I would just like to clarify some things for you. There are 8 members of a our 19 member department eligible for retirement. We are trying to preserve the fire department as a whole. So when these people actually do retire the city will have some incentive to replace them. As President of our union I am completely against a two tier system. This is a system proposed to us by the city to hopefully allow the city to save money in the future and be able to fill vacant positions. As far as our wage is concerned I challenge you to find another profession that risks its' life for less than $20.00 an hour. Will be glad to answer any questions you have.

Forest City

Thu, May 13, 2010 : 9:53 a.m.

Wow. How logical. Take a pay cut to prevent job losses. It's too bad this couldn't have happened in Ypsi Schools. You would have saved jobs and perhaps, kept Chappelle open.


Thu, May 13, 2010 : 8:55 a.m.

Although this appears to be a step in the right direction, it's little more than a shell game. "Employees hired after July 1, 2009, will pay 5 percent of their base wage to health care benefits and receive no city contribution into their flexible spending account. They will also begin paying for vision insurance. Those hired prior to the new contract will pay 2 percent of their base wages toward health care benefits and will no longer receive $250 contributions into their flexible spending accounts. They will also see an increase in co-pays. " Ypsilanti Fire Department hasn't hired anybody in a couple of years, so essentially, all the current employees are exempt from this provision. Granted they did take a 5% pay cut, but given that they are one of the higher base pay departments in the county, all that did was get them more in line with other fire departments. I always find it interesting when unions do a split benefit package. They've deflected the heat off themselves and placed it squarely on the shoulders of those who will replace them. Seems kind of oxymoronic when you look at the mission statement of a union. In any case, congrats to the YFD union and the City for avoiding layoffs.


Thu, May 13, 2010 : 8:10 a.m.

TYPO: They will also see in [AN] increase in co-pays. Good article, good resolution, NO loss of YFD staff and some really good coments by the readers. Cash, you're right...Ypsi rocks!


Thu, May 13, 2010 : 7:09 a.m.

Congratulations to Ypsilanti...the council and the firefighters for not allowing this to become a circus as it has in some other cities. Your professionalism during our hard times as taxpayers, won't be forgotten. Just another reason why Ypsilanti rocks!


Wed, May 12, 2010 : 10:31 p.m.

Thanks to YFD and local 401. We taxpayers appreciate your willingness to give reasonable sacrifice. We will not forget this and hopefully someday we can all get our paycuts returned!!!


Wed, May 12, 2010 : 10:14 p.m.

Marzan thanks it was a long and uncertain process but I believe Pete will agree with me that we did what was best for all under the circumstances. We are one of a few departments who have been able to avoid layoffs. Unfortunately do to cuts in state revenue sharing and losses in taxable values more and more of our brothers and sisters are being threatened with or actually being laid off. Good luck to Ann Arbors firefighters who have already made concessions. I hope our city councils willingness to work with us will inspire other municipalities to seek alternatives to layoffs.


Wed, May 12, 2010 : 9:31 p.m.

Good job folks!


Wed, May 12, 2010 : 8:31 p.m.

Kudos to the YFD and its union leadership for acknowledging today's economic reality and negotiating a reasonable package that keeps firefighters on the job. The next step should be deeper collaboration with neighboring units to enhance capabilities for all concerned. Insightful and forward-thinking leadership can make it happen.

Pete Murdock

Wed, May 12, 2010 : 7:55 p.m.

Stan - Earlier this year City Council cut its budget 12% including a 5% pay reduction. We get no benefits so there were no benefits to cut. In addition all administrative (non-union) personnel took a 5% salary reduction. Pete


Wed, May 12, 2010 : 7:05 p.m.

Sorry to hear that the emergency people who keep us safe have to take these cuts. I do hope that before this step was taken that the Mayor and ALL the council members have likewise taken the same percentage of cuts in wages and benefits. If not, its something to keep in mind at the next election.