Stothert, Omaha fire union chief both say layoffs avoidable, but each looks to the other -
Published Tuesday, November 5, 2013 at 12:00 am / Updated at 9:33 am
Stothert, Omaha fire union chief both say layoffs avoidable, but each looks to the other

Mayor Jean Stothert and Omaha's fire union president said Monday that the layoffs of 19 firefighters can be avoided — but each said it was the other's job to make that happen.

The layoffs, effective Jan. 4, were formally announced Monday as Omaha Fire Department officials began hand-delivering pink slips. The 19 people set to lose their jobs are all probationary firefighters hired in February.

Stothert said significant cuts are necessary to help balance the Fire Department budget.

Late last week she offered the fire union a proposal: Cut next year's paramedic training program from 48 to 12 members and avoid layoffs through the end of 2014.

On top of that, Stothert said she would promise not to lay off firefighters in 2015 if the department could stay within its $90.6 million budget next year.

Union President Steve LeClair said his group is willing to cut paramedic training in half, with one class of 12 starting in January and another of 12 in December 2014.

But LeClair said the union needs the city to make some assurances of its own.

An agreement the union offered Monday includes a provision that would block the mayor from taking any rigs permanently out of service, with the exception of one medic unit based in South Omaha. In addition, the union wants the mayor to agree not to lay off any firefighters — including the new hires — for the life of the contract.

LeClair said in a statement that the paramedic training reductions would bring the class size down to a level that Stothert approved when she was serving on the Omaha City Council.

“Now, in light of a manufactured budget crisis, Stothert is threatening layoffs that will affect the lives of dedicated public servants and their families, who now hang in the balance,” he said.

Stothert said the budget crunch is real.

Last week her office released projections that show the Fire Department ending 2013 more than $6 million over budget. She said the department has 21 more firefighters than budgeted and that it is within her rights as mayor to drop its ranks to fill a budget gap.

The labor contract between the city and the union, which went into effect Jan. 1, allows the city to lay off firefighters for budgetary reasons — if their numbers don't dip below the size of the staff at the time the contract was approved. With 19 layoffs, the city would have two more firefighters than it did at that time.

Stothert said it's important for the city to retain the ability to make staff cuts in the future.

Even if the union agrees to other cuts, she said, she is not willing to negotiate on layoff protections.

“I am not going to agree to say indefinitely I will not lay off anyone in the Fire Department,” she said. “That's a management right, and I'm not going to give up that right.”

Stothert is blocked from making immediate layoffs because of a contract with departing Chief Mike McDonnell.

The two sparred for months over proposed fire budget reductions before agreeing to a retirement deal. In exchange for McDonnell's retirement Friday — with a $124,000 pension — Stothert said she would not lay off firefighters or take rigs out of service until after Dec. 21.

Stothert said Monday that Interim Chief Bernard Kanger is considering the one exception to that deal: the South Omaha medic unit, which could be pulled out of service at any time.

“It would be up to him to do that,” Stothert said. “That's another cost-saving measure that he is looking at right now.”

The mayor said she will not proceed with the layoffs if the union agrees to her terms before Jan. 4. She said she expects her requests will be answered with a lawsuit.

“We're at an impasse right now, so this is the next step,” she said. “But if they come back and agree, we will rescind them. They don't have to be laid off. So the ball's in their court right now.”

LeClair, however, said he's waiting on Stothert.

“If the mayor is sincere in avoiding the layoffs she has announced, I expect that she will sign the agreement,” he said, adding that firefighters “should not have to undergo the uncertainty and drama occasioned by these political theatrics.”

The layoffs, which will be effective Jan. 4, will involve probationary firefighters hired last February. They were selected based on rankings earned from firefighter entrance exams.

Stothert said she told fire union officials that she would not lay off firefighters if the union cut its 2014 paramedic training class from 48 to 12 members. The mayor also said she would agree to no layoffs through 2015 if the Fire Department stayed within its budget in 2014.

Those deals, she said, were rejected because union leadership was “insisting on an indefinite guarantee of no layoffs.”

Fire union president Steve LeClair said his group has been considering Stothert's proposal since she offered it Wednesday evening.

He said the union is willing to make recommended cuts and agrees that reducing the paramedic training class would “make the budget much more attainable.”

But LeClair said the union needs the city to make some assurances of its own related to staffing in the future.

“We've agreed to give the city the tools for the Fire Department to meet its budget in 2014, and in return, we've asked for something that's been categorically rejected,” he said.

LeClair declined to discuss specific requests the union has made in negotiations.

“I think the compromise has to be on the city's side of the table,” he said. “The union has basically tentatively agreed to everything the city has demanded up until this point.”

Stothert is blocked from making any immediate layoffs because of a contract with departing Chief Mike McDonnell.

In exchange for McDonnell agreeing to retire Nov. 8 with a $124,000 pension, Stothert said she would not lay off firefighters or take any rigs out of service until after Dec. 21.

In a news release Monday afternoon, Stothert said it's possible the planned layoffs could still be avoided.

“With the layoffs not being effective until January, there is still time to avoid them, if the union is willing to come to an agreement,” she said.

Full release from Mayor Jean Stothert

Contact the writer: Erin Golden    |   402-444-1543    |  

Erin covers the Omaha City Council and the Mayor's Office.

A voice of experience: Ex-gang member has helped lead fight against Omaha violence
The thrill of the skill: Omaha hosts statewide contest for students of the trades
Intoxicated man with pellet gun climbs billboard's scaffold; is arrested
Last day of 2014 Legislature: Praise, passage of a last few bills and more on mountain lions
'The war is not over,' Chambers says, but legislative session about is
A recap of what got done — and what didn't — in the 2014 legislative session
PAC funded by Senate candidate Ben Sasse's great-uncle releases Shane Osborn attack ad
Teen killed at Gallagher Park was shot in head as he sat in SUV, friend who was wounded says
When judge asks, Nikko Jenkins says ‘I killed them’
New UNO center strengthens ties between campus, community
Threat found in Millard West bathroom deemed 'not credible'
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
Nebrasks health officials to advertise jobs via drive-thru
Coral Walker named Omaha police officer of the year
Sarah Palin, Mike Lee coming to Nebraska for Ben Sasse rally
Prescription drug drop-off is April 26
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Rather than doing $250K in repairs, owner who lives in lot behind 94-year-old house in Dundee razes it
NB 30th Street lane closed
State Patrol, Omaha police conduct vehicle inspections
Bernie Kanger formally promoted to Omaha fire chief
U.S. House incumbents have deeper pockets than their challengers
Nancy's Almanac, April 17, 2014: Trees save money
Ex-Iowan behind landmark free speech case recounts story in Bellevue
Gov. Heineman signs water bill; sponsor calls it 'landmark legislation'
< >
Breaking Brad: At least my kid never got stuck inside a claw machine
We need a new rule in Lincoln. If your kid is discovered inside the claw machine at a bowling alley, you are forever barred from being nominated for "Mother of the Year."
Breaking Brad: How many MECA board members can we put in a luxury suite?
As a stunt at the Blue Man Group show, MECA board members are going to see how many people they can stuff into one luxury suite.
Kelly: Creighton's McDermotts put good faces on an Omaha tradition
A comical roast Wednesday night in Omaha brought fans of Creighton basketball laughter by the bucketful. This time it was McJokes, not McBuckets, that entertained the Bluejay crowd.
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Jessica Lutton Bedient was killed by a drunken driver at age 26 in 2010. Thursday, the widowed husband and other family members will gather with others at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to dedicate a permanent memorial to Jessica.
Breaking Brad: How much would you pay for a corn dog?
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a new concession item: a $25 corn dog. For that kind of money, it should be stuffed with Bitcoin.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
The Jaipur in Rockbrook Village
Half Off Fine Indian Cuisine & Drinks! $15 for Dinner, or $7 for Lunch
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »