LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - On Thursday, Nov. 3, the Lake Charles Firefighters Union told the city of Lake Charles it was no longer negotiating and ended their contract with the city.
At Wednesday's city council meeting, the council rejected the union's request for a pay raise referendum.
Lake Charles City Administrator John Cardone said since the contract has been terminated, the provisions that went along with it "go away."
"How do you justify giving 20-percent pay increase to one group of people and not the others," Cardone said. He said the city is currently operating in deficits from last year.
"It's difficult adding to that when you don't know what the future is going to bring," Cardone said.
Lake Charles Firefighters Union President Will Vueleman said before with the contract, firefighters were legally bound to work up in the ranks, which saved the city money. Vueleman said the agreement allowed the city to hold certain benefits above their heads.
"We're willing to take that hit right now because we felt like we haven't been treated fairly from the administration or the council," Vueleman said.
The provisions from the contract days included premium pay when firefighters would move up in the ranks to fill positions. This usually happened when other coworkers are on sick leave or vacation.
If the positions could not be filled, then firefighters could earn overtime. In order to keep overtime down, the fire chief could choose to leave ladder trucks understaffed, also known as "brown-outs."
According to Lake Charles Fire Chief Keith Murray there are five ladder trucks in the city. Currently three are in service with two browned-out. Vueleman said browning-out the trucks is nothing new.
"They've been browning-out for over a year now," Vueleman said. "The trucks in service in the past year have been undermanned."
But now that the contract is up he said trucks are still being browned-out, so fewer trucks are in use, allowing ladder trucks to be fully manned.
"If you do enough brown-outs it could jeopardize the city of Lake Charles class two fire rating and bring it down to a class three or four fire rating, which again could cost the citizens of Lake Charles additional money in insurance premiums," Cardone said.
Cardone and Vuelerman mentioned either way it's a lose-lose situation.
"Regardless of how morale is, because of the current way we feel because of the way the administration is treating us, that's not going to affect our level of service to the citizens," Vuelerman said. "Not one bit whatsoever."