California Professional Firefighters

Furloughs, FIRE Act, SAFER Cuts Loom in Budget Fight

More than 700 California firefighters are scheduled to get layoff notices tomorrow, courtesy of the latest round of federal budget brinksmanship.

The civilian firefighters working on military installations will get the provisional pink slips as part of the procedure for implementing the looming “budget sequester” – a fancy phrase for the most recent fiscal showdown in Washington. Without an alternative in place by March 1, steep across-the-board spending cuts will be implemented – cuts that won’t spare public safety.

Public safety, air traffic control and other vital services have been specifically exempted in past budget shutdowns, but not this time” said Mike Massone, CPF 5th District Vice President and President of San Diego Federal Firefighters Local F-33. “This time, it’s across-the-board.”

Firefighters are not alone in seeing the layoff notices – every federal employee is getting one, as it’s required by federal labor law. But though most F- local members are expected to keep their jobs, it will come at a price: 22 furlough days between April and October. Given firefighters’ schedule, that could be at least a 20% pay cut, and Massone says the loss of FLSA mandatory overtime could have some taking a hit of more than 28%.

The real question is how do you ‘furlough’ emergency services?” said Massone. “Brown out companies? Close stations? Reduce engine staffing? Nobody really knows how they plan to implement it. The only thing we know for sure is that it’s going to hurt … our members and the people we serve.

Federal firefighters are not the only public safety professionals at risk because of the Washington budget wrangling. According to IAFF, FIRE Act and SAFER grants for fiscal year 2013 could be cut by as much as 30% if the sequester cuts remain in effect.

This is no longer just a federal thing,” said Massone. “This affects every agency that gets a grant from the federal government. It’s a meat-cleaver approach.

For federal firefighters, the uncertainty extends beyond the sequester. The so-called “continuing resolution” that funds all federal services is scheduled to expire at the end of March. “When we’ve had budget shutdowns before, the lost money has been reimbursed,” he noted. “This time, there’s no contingency for repayment … either for our members or for the grant funds.”

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