LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC-TV) – Lake Charles union firefighters picketed outside city hall and other areas of downtown Lake Charles on Friday.
The firefighters were protesting the treatment they said they have received from the City of Lake Charles; specifically, claims that some of them have abused their sick leave policy by taking excessive overtime.
"We want the people to know this is an informational picket," said Will Veuleman, President of Lake Charles Firefighters Union 561. "This is not a strike. There will never be any type of strike."
Firefighters said any overtime they have accrued is legitimate. Firefighters said the real issue is vacancies.
"We're short-handed; have been for some time," said Veuleman. "The solution to it is to hire more people. It's pretty plain and simple."
One issue at contention is a policy adopted by the City known as brownouts, something implemented by many cities across the nation as a way to save money. During brownouts, fire engines, sometimes even entire fire stations, are closed temporarily.
Facing another budget deficit in a bad economy, city officials said they have little choice than to find ways to save money, even if some of their policies are unpopular.
And while firefighters said the public's safety may be at risk because of some of these policies, city officials said public safety was their top priority.
"Our obligation….to protect the public is our number one objective," said Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach. "We have to make some changes within our budget and in the way in which we do things in order to make sure we minimize the affects on that operating deficit."
The City said it does plan on filling firefighter vacancies in the next few months.