N.O. fire chief says pay dispute led to FQ Fest boycott

Updated: Apr. 10, 2015 at 9:59 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The New Orleans fire chief says a fight over pay led to a boycott from some firefighters who refused to work French Quarter Fest this year.

Hundreds of thousands of people are in New Orleans this weekend for the fest, and every year New Orleans firefighters work voluntary details to monitor safety conditions - especially those cooking under tents. But this year, the fire chief says some of those firefighters refused to work their details.

"We wound up with a boycott where the union members have declined to work. The majority of union members I should say, have declined to work any paid details, and we had difficulty," said New Orleans Fire Chief Timothy McConnell.

The issue: The pay rate for those working details was supposed to go up in February, but McConnell says he notified festival organizers about that new rate later than he should have. When organizers expressed their concern over what that new rate would do to their budgets, he decided they would delay paying that new detail rate until May.

"I felt like it was the right thing to do, the prudent thing to do for people who have a budget and they have to plan for these events. Remember -  these are non-profit community events," McConnell said.

But the president of the New Orleans firefighters union says they didn't boycott French Quarter Fest. He says it comes down to firefighters being frustrated with the chief and the pay they're getting.

"They are not upset about French Quarter Fest, let me be perfectly clear about that. We love those people. They are our family. Now, are they upset with the chief? Yes they are. That is clear and distinct. He does not represent them. He has stabbed them in the back. He has pretty much turned his back on the men and women of this department," said New Orleans Firefighters Association President Nick Felton.

The fire chief says when firefighters boycotted working French Quarter Fest they had to bring in outside help from the Louisiana State Fire Marshal's Office.

Reporter: "Are there any areas that are unmanned or any areas that are thinner than they normally would be?"

McConnel: "No, we actually hired up six over where I normally would have hired for today. And we've been using some of those folks, and we had to fill in these gaps, we put those folks on those details."

McConnel also told FOX 8 that they were able to cover the shifts needed so the public wouldn't be at risk.

Reporter: "Will this boycott affect fire response times at all?"

McConnel: "No, it should not affect our companies that are in service are in service."

The organizer for French Quarter Fest says festival-goers should feel safe because all of their inspections and safety watches are covered. We're told firefighters can't boycott their normal work shifts, only that voluntary work detail. The fire chief says the new detail pay rates will go into affect May 15 instead of in February, that way festival organizers will have time to adjust their budgets.

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