NOFD Photo Unit

Newell: Mayor's standoff with NOFD not good for any of us

Newell Normand
February 12, 2020 - 4:23 pm

Add the New Orleans Fire Department to the list of organizations and individuals Mayor Cantrell finds herself at odds with. At the center of this new controversy is disagreement over the firefighters’ pay, overtime hours, pension and their vacation. To help understand the state of play, Newell invited New Orleans Firefighters Association President Aaron Mischler into the studio Wednesday morning.

“In reading about this back-and-forth you’re having with the administration over the pension and so forth, one thing I didn’t see is whether or not there’s been a series of meetings you’re having with them,” Newell began. “Has that been going on?”

“We had one meeting with the Mayor last Friday - it did not go well,” Mischler said.

“So why is this all happening now? Why have you decided to take this particular stance about not working voluntary overtime?” Newell asked.

“It’s not the timing that’s being reported in the news, that we waited for Mardi Gras,” Mischler answered. “This stems back to a meeting we had in November pertaining to our promotional process. We’ve had litigation we’ve taken to Fourth Circuit and the Supreme Court and won, and the Civil Service Commission asked us all to come up with a uniform promotional policy for police and fire, which we were working on and had seemed to come to an agreement on, and that was pulled by the CAO… so it’s left pretty much the way it is, where political appointees can pick and choose who they want on the list.”

“So that started the frustration back in November, but now you’ve taken this position relative to overtime pay. Why that, now?”

“When the promotions issue was taken from us, I was able to talk to all of our members and told them our retirement benefit package is still on the table, and they’re working with us on that, I was assured of that by Chief McConnell,” Mischler said.  “We all have to come to an agreement - the Mayor’s office, the union pension board, the city’s fire administration. If we all agree, we go to the legislature together, and they change whatever we need changed. We worked on that for months. We had our attorney draw up the legislation, we were prepared to have sponsors to bring it to the floor, it looked like the Mayor was on board - and the point of all of this to retain firefighters - three days before we’re ready to advertise the bill, we’re called into the Mayor’s office for a meeting and they pulled the plug on that reform. That was the final straw - the membership couldn’t take anymore.”

“So yet another representation from the administration that they were willing to compromise on this issue, but now - they’re not?”

“We feel like Lucy is holding the football, and we’re Charlie Brown getting ready to kick it, and it just gets pulled away again,” Mischler said.

“From your perspective, is 540 an adequate number of firefighters to provide the services necessary throughout the city?” Newell asked.

“Absolutely not,” came the answer. “Seven years ago, our former Superintendent was asked by the council, what is the bottom line, what’s the lowest number we can have to provide protection to this city? The answer was 694, based on numerous studies done that showed that’s where we needed to be.”

“Well, hopefully the Mayor comes to the table and we’re able to reach some resolution here, because at the end of the day, this isn’t good for any of us,” Newell concluded.

Hear the entire interview in the audio player below.

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