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Posted on Tue, Dec 29, 2009 : 10:09 a.m.

Deal reached to avoid firefighter layoffs, Ann Arbor officials say

By Ryan J. Stanton

Also: Assistant Chief Greg Hollingsworth announces retirement

The Ann Arbor Fire Department might be spared from cuts for the next six months under a new deal reached between the firefighters union and city leaders.

City officials say a tentative agreement is in place that could postpone layoffs scheduled to take effect next week. The agreement covers the one-year period from July 1, 2009, through June 30, 2010.


Several members of the firefighters union showed up at the Dec. 21 Ann Arbor City Council meeting to protest firefighter layoffs.

Ryan J. Stanton |

Union officials told their members Monday that the contract language is being finalized and will be released within the next week. The details remain confidential.

A 14-day period will begin once the final language is released so union members can review the tentative agreement prior to a ratification vote.

City Administrator Roger Fraser confirmed this morning the city is postponing the potential layoffs pending Local 693's ratification vote on the tentative collective bargaining agreement. He indicated he was happy with the agreement.

"We wouldn't have a tentative agreement if we didn't think we got as much as we could out of it," he said.

Fraser announced plans earlier this month to move up the previously scheduled elimination of 14 firefighter positions. Laying them off in early January instead of late June could save about $400,000, which was one part of Fraser's solution to close a $3.3 million mid-year budget deficit.

Matt Schroeder, president of Local 693, said he's not at liberty to talk specifics. But he said the concessions being made by the firefighters union amount to more than the $400,000 mid-year savings Fraser targeted with the layoffs.

"It's a lot more than $400,000, and ultimately we'll see what our body says when it comes up for ratification," he said. "We felt that we owe it to the citizens to at least give this a try because we believe we're already minimally staffed. I don't know that it can make it past ratification but we're going to try. It's an opportunity to allow the fire department to move forward for six months."

Mayor John Hieftje recently issued a challenge to all the city's labor unions, asking them to take a voluntary 3 percent pay cut to help the city balance its budget. Schroeder declined to give a specific percentage but said the firefighters will have answered the mayor's call if the tentative agreement is approved.

"Our local is being a leader in this whole proposition, and I would look to administration to follow our lead with some of the givebacks because I think that they need to be looking at themselves," Schroeder said. "We'll be encouraged by other people in administration that follow our lead."

The firefighters union offered to make major concessions two weeks ago, including a 6 percent reduction in wages and benefits. But no deal was reached at that time because the union wanted a guarantee of no layoffs.

One of the 14 positions to be cut was vacant, so 13 firefighters received layoff notices this month. They were to be terminated effective Jan. 4.

The fire department currently operates on a budget of about $14 million a year, the bulk of which goes to wages and benefits for firefighters. Right now, the department is budgeted for 94 full-time employees, which includes two management assistants and the chief. In 2001-02, the department had 113.5 full-time equivalent employees.

The last contract for Local 693, which expired June 30, contained a no-layoff clause that has protected the fire department for the last five years. But city leaders say they now have little choice but to dig into public safety as they confront a multimillion-dollar budget deficit heading into next year.

If the tentative contract is ratified, Fraser said he anticipates negotiations with the firefighters union will resume in the spring to talk about what happens after June. He already has asked the department to come up with a plan to trim an additional $1 million from its budget.


Craig Ferris, a lieutenant who has been with the fire department for 16 years, spoke out at the Dec. 21 City Council meeting. He believes the department already has been reduced to minimum levels, and further cuts pose a safety risk.

Ryan J. Stanton |

As labor negotiations continue, city officials are in the final stages of sorting through five candidates for the fire chief position, and two of those candidates apparently are being invited back for second interviews. Chief Samuel Hopkins retired in September, leaving the city looking for a new leader to steer the department through a stormy period of financial uncertainty.

The candidates interviewed so far include Marty DeLoach, who was fired from his job as Brighton's fire chief this year; Bernie Becker, who left his job as fire chief in Clearcreek Township, Ohio, amid a firestorm of allegations that later proved to be false; Harvy Holland, a battalion chief in Pontiac; Jeffrey Hawkins, fire chief in Pontiac; and Joe Dziuban, who retired in 2007 as Saginaw's fire chief. Sources say Becker and Dziuban are the two finalists being interviewed.

City records show the fire chief was budgeted to earn a salary of about $117,000 this year, while two assistant chiefs were to make about $85,000 and $86,000. With benefits, the chief's total compensation comes to $169,424, while that for the two assistant chiefs each come close to $130,000.

Assistant Fire Chief Greg Hollingsworth, the fire department's acting chief for the past few months, has submitted his paperwork to retire effective in February.

"I've been with the department for 27 years, and with the new fire chief coming on board, I just thought it was time to make room," he said. "I've been thinking about retiring for a year or so and I just thought it was timely with them trying to cut employees. Maybe it'll make a difference. Maybe it'll save one layoff."

Before he leaves, Hollingsworth has been asked to come up with alternate plans for restructuring the fire department if it has 14 fewer firefighters. He said that's a difficult task, and he hopes the cutbacks don't have to be implemented because it would involve taking one of the department's trucks out of service.

The fire department currently has two trucks downtown and one at each of its four substations. Hollingsworth said the leading idea is to take one truck out of the downtown station, but that leaves a heavy burden on the one crew that would remain there. The alternate option of taking a truck out of one of the substations and closing that substation also isn't ideal, he said, because it would mean longer runs to whichever district becomes vacant.

"Everybody deserves timely responses when they have an emergency so it's hard to decide," he said. "I would like to keep all the fire stations open."

Ryan J. Stanton covers government for Reach him at or 734-623-2529.


Mr. DB

Mon, Jan 4, 2010 : 7:09 p.m.

Definitely, if the department is fully staffed, and contains the latest equipment, I would walk into a burning building for $9/hr. Especially if I have no other job. Would you rather see people die in a burning building just because they did not have enough money to hire firefighters making $18/Hr? It is all about how the risk factor is calculated. One has to account for the number of fires, and the severities of the type of fire that occurs in Ann Arbor.


Fri, Jan 1, 2010 : 4:18 p.m.

Would you walk into a burning building for less then $18 per hour? Would you do it for $9? Thats what you are propsing Mr. DB. I saw a comment that someone wouldn't do Frasers job for double, would you do a Firefighters's for half?


Thu, Dec 31, 2009 : 11:01 a.m.

@Moose, you know the answer to that? Because no residents have the backbone to go to a city council meeting and tell the council just that fact. You think these blogs 'move' the council? No way. They know that if things are going to get done, people need to speak up and have it on public record. What do you think Fraser's comfort level would be if 5 people for two meetings spoke to council about their lack of confidence in our city manager? That would raise some eye brows. But Fraser will have a long a fruitful career in this city because he knows that what I said will never happen. Long live the king....


Thu, Dec 31, 2009 : 8:53 a.m.

FACT: Roger Fraser Lives in the township. He gets about $4000 annually from the taxpayers to drive his own cars, a BMW SUV and a convertible BMW. FACT: When he was hired City Council gave him about $30,000 as an incentive to live in the city. He took the money and moved to the township. For the life of me, I can't figure out why a City Motor Pool Chevy Impala, gassed and maintained by the city garage is't good enough for him. And why for heavens sake did council give him $30,000 to live in the city, along with a generous salary, bonus's and raises, then he snubs them and they just sit there like whipped puppy dogs.

Mr. DB

Thu, Dec 31, 2009 : 6:22 a.m.

I think the mayor makes about 40K a year, while Fraser makes about 133K. This does not include the various expenses such as car and travel that is reimbursable by the city. For a small city like Ann Arbor, he is paid really well. As for the firefighters, if you take into consideration the risk factor of living in this city, 85K a year is a lot. By all means, they should not be laid off, nor downsized. Isn't it better to have 20 firefighters making 40K a year, than to have 10 of them making 80K? Then again, I cannot blame the city. We have a University that overcompensates their employees, and overcharges their students. Surely, the city has to keep up with the inflation.


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 1:03 p.m.

jobs being eliminated, FF being let go, fire Stations being closed down, and everyone is still against a City Income Tax...sad.


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 12:57 p.m.

Oh really? And who makes the cuts about the spending in the city? He hasn't. Go to a city council meeting and watch the money fly out the door, and he sits there and says nothing. Don't give me that. I've been in those meetings.


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 10:26 a.m.

@WALKER101... I know this response is late, but you look at this from one side, and unfortunately it's the "fraser" side, and that's what he wants. The firefighters didn't put that in there to save their own butts (while I'm sure they're happy to have jobs because of it), it's in there because the city, years ago, tried to close fire stations. They did close station 2. So, because they know how the 'city minds' work, to put in there that the city won't close stations wouldn't work since the city would say, "Fine, there are trucks there and the station is open. It's just there's no firefighters there." So while you complain about the firefighters, they're doing this stuff to make the city, mainly Fraser, STOP closing fire stations in your neighborhood and force them to look at the other ridiculous spending they've been doing thus far. The put their lives on the line to help us, and they also fight city hall for the residents. Wait, isn't city hall supposed to be all about the residents!?!?! Well, not in Ann Arbor. Next time you see the guys in those red trucks, maybe try thanking them instead of shooting them a nasty look. They stand up more for the residents than your elected officials.


Wed, Dec 30, 2009 : 1:53 a.m.

Why is it that we are told what budget woes the City faces, but we can't be told what deals are being made? Has anyone been keeping track of the money that Fraser's been saving the City? Doesn't he still get a percentage of the money that he saves the City as a bonus (it's not a raise)?? Somebody mentioned that he drives a BMW; is that his City Vehicle or are you just making fun of him because he drives a nice car?


Tue, Dec 29, 2009 : 7:57 p.m.

Just curious. The mayor requested that city employees take a 3% pay cut, does that include him and the council? Does Ann Arbor need as many council members as they currently employ?


Tue, Dec 29, 2009 : 7:24 p.m.

So Fraser thinks he has reached enough concessions?? Funny how he has asked everyone in the city to give up or the citizens to do without all while he continues to live like the Fat Cat. Fraser offers up that he hasn't received a raise in years but fails to mention his yearly bonus that is far about any percentage that any employee receives. He wants everyone to do more with less but he hasn't felt the pinch because he isn't the one doing any of the jobs. He certainly won't mention all of his free lunches on a city credit card either. All Fraser can do is snub his nose at the employees and citizens of this city as he builts the city hall monument to himself. Fraser is quite comfy driving his BMW sports car to his luxury home outside the city while living the good life himself. True hypocrisy at work.

Rod Johnson

Tue, Dec 29, 2009 : 1:48 p.m.

toofache, that's a pretty tenuous connection--different jobs, different governments, different situations. Unless you're obsessed with making sure the health care debate invades all other discussions, I'd say non sequitur is a pretty good description.


Tue, Dec 29, 2009 : 1:10 p.m.

I would like to compliment the negotiators for working hard to achieve a compromise that will maintain staffing through June. I am sure they realize that this is only a temporary fix and that more hard choices will have to be made. Having been in unions all my life I know that it is not easy to make concessions and the negotiators may well pay a price with their membership. Let's hope that both the membership and the council approve the deal and both parties can begin to negotiate with a little more faith in the other.


Tue, Dec 29, 2009 : 1:08 p.m.

I live in the city of Ann Arbor and I am so happy to hear that the staffing will (hopefully) be maintained for the AAFD. bellhelmet: I don't remember hearing that but I think we could all agree that the last few years have taught many of us the art of being humble and grateful for what we have. Perhaps some lost sight of that in the past. The present economic situation has changed things for many. We must maintain staffing levels for Police and Fire, it directly affects the safety of the citizens of the city if we do not.


Tue, Dec 29, 2009 : 12:23 p.m.

GREAT news for those 13 FFs! Although I would tell them they better have a job lined up come June 30th 2010.


Tue, Dec 29, 2009 : 12:18 p.m.

Rod J., healthcare workers have the same boss...the government.

Rod Johnson

Tue, Dec 29, 2009 : 12:13 p.m.

Ah, the sound of axes being ground. There's always someone who wants to make every discussion about health care, no matter how much of a non sequitur it is.


Tue, Dec 29, 2009 : 11:57 a.m.

By the same logic, you people would also be against the 20% pay cut Medicaid/Medicare is about to level on healthcare providers.


Tue, Dec 29, 2009 : 11:35 a.m.

Actually, there are some guarantees in life......Cars WILL crash, houses/vehicles/dumpsters/sheds/garages/buildings/brush/mowers/machinery/barns and other stuff WILL catch on fire. People WILL get hurt, WILL get sick. Terrorism WILL continue. People WILL continue to make mistakes, and unfortunatley people WILL continue to do bad things to each other. Animals WILL bite kids, kids WILL fall off their bikes. People WILL get stuck in elevators. A semi-truck will roll over on a car. Buildings WILL collapse. Hazardous materials WILL spill. Natural gas WILL explode, in a house, where somebody lives. A construction worker WILL get injured while 40 feet above ground level. A city bus WILL crash, a school bus WILL crash, a train WILL crash. Somebody WILL get pinned inside a car. Bad things happen to good people, period. If only there were a guarantee that 2 bad things will not happen at the same time, in Ann Arbor at least.....This is the music that we need to face. Really.


Tue, Dec 29, 2009 : 11:06 a.m.

no guarantees in life? face the music like millions of others? we are talking about first responders here, seems to me those jobs should be kept filled at safe levels for the community. If the city is short the funds it is because the city government does not know how to prioritize their funds. Keep a firefighter and let the mayor take a pay cut. Let Fraser take a pay cut.


Tue, Dec 29, 2009 : 10:51 a.m.

A guarantee of no layoffs, how nice it is to have the luxury of never losing your job because of any lack of funds the City may have. Let's see I take a 6% pay cut and throw in a no layoff guarantee clause in my contract, Give me a break. It's time they face the music like millions have over the last few years, no guarantees in life, so get real.