NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - It’s a busy weekend for Carnival with krewes rolling across the metro area and beyond in Jefferson Parish, St. Bernard Parish, St. Tammany Parish and of course Orleans Parish.
Amongst the excitement, there’s concern.
New Orleans Fire Chief Tim McConnell claims union leaders had firefighters stage a partial strike threatening public safety in an effort to bully the administration into meeting their demands.
Representative with the firefighters’ union calls it a public safety crisis but say they are not to blame.
With two emergency declarations in place and Carnival now in full swing, the New Orleans Fire Department is dealing with major understaffing.
“Approximately one-third of the members who are scheduled to report today called in sick,” says McConnell.
McConnell says without those 47 firefighters, he had to take a pump, a ladder and two heavy rescue units out of service.
“People not showing up for the sworn duty at the worst time in the world is, I believe, unconscionable and doing so at this time reeks of extortion,” says McConnell.
“There are no sick outs, there are not job actions,” says firefighter union president Aaron Mischler.
Mischler denies the call ins were part of an organized initiative.
Union reps say 31 employees called in sick. The other 16 refused to work mandated overtime after their 24-hour shifts.
“Guys honestly don’t mind working overtime when it’s there because it supplements their salary. But it’s never ending. It’s every single day they come to work, they’re asked to work the next day and overtime and it’s just not sustainable. They’re running the city on the backs of tired guys,” says Mischler.
Union representatives recently announced firefighters would no longer work voluntary overtime after Mischler says the administration wouldn’t listen to initial staffing concerns. After that, he says, leaders took away scheduled vacations.
“The debacle we are in right now it’s self-made by this administration and this fire administration,” says Mischler. “This could be solved in under an hour if they just come to the table.”
Though Chief McConnell admits the department is understaffed and firefighters are working more voluntary overtime than usual, he says overtime is part of the department’s standard business practices.
When firefighters don’t agree to work, McConnell says these men and women are going back on their oath to protect residents.
“To place the public in this position during this time is coercion,” says McConnell. “I’m asking firefighters to please reconsider and come back to work and we will get this worked out through negotiations.”
Chief McConnell says they’re still responding to calls for service but focusing resources on the most important.
Mischler says firefighters have been working between 96-120 hours of overtime a week.