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Firefighters Union Hopes for Improved Relationship with New Control Board Chair

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – City firefighters continue to work without a contract and are waiting for an arbitrators decision on pay raises. But in the meantime, the president of the Buffalo firefighters union is hoping for a better relationship with the new leader of the control board.

For more than two-and-a-half years, city firefighters have been battling blazes in Buffalo without a new contract. Over the last 18 months, union president Joseph Foley has been fighting the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority. As the control board works to slash city spending and imposed a wage freeze, firefighters say they are working with less manpower, equipment and training. That has forced Foley to fight for a "fair pay raise." The union is seeking pay parity. In the midst of that battle, efforts continue by the city to re-engineer the fire department.

"We do know that they're going to continue closing firehouses. I believe their plan is for two more firehouses," Foley said. "They've already downsized bureaus within the department, thus delivering less services to the citizens.

"The city has also cut the inspections department, so businesses in the city are no longer being properly inspected for fire code violations."

Foley is now hoping that newly named control board chairman Brian Lipke will reach out to his union and create a better working relationship.

"The past chairman kept us at arm's length and refused to meet with us on real matters," Foley said. "It was a shell game. The board blamed the city, and the city blamed them, leaving the unions out in the cold."

But Foley says he expects 2005 to be a difficult year. He says the union's relationship with newly named Fire Commissioner Michael D'Orazio is "strained." And Foley says with less manpower and resources, firefighters fear for their safety while on the job.

"The guys are concerned about who's covering their back right now," Foley said. "When they arrive at a fire, they're not sure how long it's going to take for the next company to get to the scene. That's something we have to have some training on and go over our mode of operations within the department."

For now, firefighters wait for a pay raise decision. But the control board and city leaders say that giving firefighters pay parity would only lead to more job and service cuts within the fire department.