Union says East Pierce Fire issued 7 layoff notices

Union officials say East Pierce Fire & Rescue has issued layoff notices to six firefighters and a secretary.

The employees’ last day will be Jan. 31, according to a post on the union’s Facebook page Thursday.

“It is sad and disappointing that the fire district has taken the drastic step to lay off seven personnel one week before Christmas,” said Mike Westland, president of East Pierce Firefighters Union IAFF Local 3520, in an email Thursday. “This is a situation that did not have to happen.”

Westland added that the union offered the fire district $1.3 million dollars in wage, contract and working condition concessions, but the district rejected the offer.

“At a time when we are already severely understaffed, this only makes the situation worse and puts citizen and firefighter safety at risk,” Westland said.

East Pierce Fire Chief Jerry Thorson said the concessions offered by the union didn’t provide sufficient financial solutions.

“The concessions were short-term fixes,” he said. “We’d be right back in the same boat at the end of next year.”

Thorson added that if the union and fire district can reach an agreement for a long-term financial fix, he’d be happy to reinstate the jobs that are being cut.

“It’s not our desire to lay anyone off,” he said. “But we have to find a way to live within our budget.”

The reported layoffs come after the fire district started planning “drastic cuts” in the budget following a failed levy in the November election.

Fire commissioners approved a $23.7 million budget at a special meeting earlier this month, despite ongoing negotiations with the union.

Cuts that have been planned include reductions in overtime and daily staffing, elimination of special-event staffing, deferred purchase of equipment, a freeze on filling vacant firefighter positions and suspension of volunteer recruitment, and reduced maintenance of stations, fire engines and medic units.

Thorson said earlier that layoffs weren’t off the table, given uncertainty with union negotiations. Both he and Westland indicated to The News Tribune in earlier interviews that it was a mutual goal to avoid layoffs.

Westland said he hopes to work with fire district officials to avoid cutting jobs.

“We are willing to try and find a solution to the problem that allows everyone to keep their jobs,” he said in the email, “and we hope the fire district feels the same.”

Thorson stressed that responders will still provide the best possible service to citizens, despite the financial challenges.

“At the end of the day, when the alarm comes in the firefighters are going out and doing their best,” he said.