Upcoming Layoffs Worry NJ Firefighters amid Pandemic
By Kate FotiNovember 12, 2020
Impending state-mandated layoffs have firefighters at a New Jersey department concerned about how they will be able to handle the current coronavirus pandemic.
Over the weekend, a group of Camden firefighters hired in 2017 received layoff notices following the loss of a $2.4 million federal Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response grant, the Courier-Post reports. City officials said any layoffs in the 190-member fire department would not happen until June 30.
“Morale is ridiculously low right now,” Ali Cooper, the president of Camden’s firefighters union, told the Courier-Post. “(Firefighters) have been saying, ‘We’re in the middle of all this, and we come home to these letters?’ “
Mayor Frank Moran sent a letter last month to the head of the Civil Service Commission that detailed a plan to deal with the loss of the grant money without laying off front-line firefighters. Under the proposal, overtime and certain top tier positions would be reduced and six other positions would not be filled.
But that plan was crafted before COVID-19 had been declared a global pandemic, and the firefighters union didn’t fully support such measures at that time. The city and union officials have not met to discuss the layoffs since the Moran sent his letter, and Cooper says that lack of communication has worried the rank and file.
“We know there’s a pandemic going on right now, but these guys and women are out there, and they’re worried about whether they’ll have health care if they get laid off,” Cooper told the Courier-Post. “It would be nice of the mayor to reiterate that none of the front liners are going to be hit.”
A city spokesman said the layoff notices were “part of a process,” and officials were still trying to work out another solution. He added that the benefits for firefighters who received notices are still in place.
Along with worries over layoffs, Camden firefighters also have been concerned about protective gear protocols during the pandemic, as well as their dorm-style living areas. Last week, the fire union sent a letter to Chief Michael Harper addressing those and other issues.
“This is beyond insulting that in the midst of a worldwide epidemic in which our members have seen its fire administration approach the protective measures of its members haphazardly, our members would receive layoff notices,” the letter stated, according to the Courier-Post.