Tensions mount between City and Reno firefighters

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Tensions mount between City and Reno firefighters

The local firefighters union is suing the city of Reno in an effort to prevent dozens of layoffs. Meanwhile, the two parties are in negotiations over the union's contract, but things are tense.

The City of Reno may have already passed its budget, but the dispute over laying off 33 firefighters is not going away anytime soon.

"The only way you can lay people off is if you don't have any money, or you don't have any work."

That's Seth Williams who's with Local 731, the union suing the city. He's paraphrasing a Nevada law that, he says, backs up their case. There's clearly enough work for firefighters in Reno. No one is disputing that. But is there enough money? While there are no dedicated streams of revenue, the city did receive a chunk of one-time funds, which it used to pay off some of its debt on city hall and for other projects.

Williams says that money could be spent on keeping firefighters on board, at least for another year.

"Instead of spending all this money on discretionary spending, extracurricular stuff, we believe they should fund the core services first and, even if you read the city's strategic plan, the number one priority is public safety. Well, when this ‘funding deficit comes up,' their first choice is to cut firefighters."

He also points to the six million dollars in concessions that his union gave up permanently during the Recession. None of that is convincing Councilman Dwight Dortch, though, who's an outspoken critic of the union. He says any one-time money the City has is being used to bolster its reserves and for other critical infrastructure needs.

"And it's ridiculous to think that we, as the people elected to make these decisions, don't get to make these decisions on how this money is spent and handled. They want to make those decisions. So to think that there's this whirlwind of other projects out there to help fund these firefighters is crazy."

The councilman says the City can't get into a situation where it spends money on firefighters and loses its financial cushion. In the past, Dortch has called for the unions to make concessions as a way of avoiding some layoffs. With negotiations now underway, so far, he's not encouraged.

"And they came back and, I guess, they basically said, ‘not only am I not going to come up with a way to save those firefighters, they said they want an eight percent raise,' which in reality would be another fifteen guys we'd have to lay off."

The union is not happy that Dortch is sharing this kind of information before they've reached a deal. Seth Williams says it's also standard to start negotiations with an aggressive offer that may not be entirely realistic.

"You come in with some pie in the sky expectations in hopes that you get to some more reasonable position. Well, we are not going out and saying all the things the City is asking for, because that would be unethical."

There's no timeline for the negotiations. The first court date is set for June 17th in Reno.