The promotions of 43 firefighters Monday signaled the end of a two-year fight between the union and the administration to elevate those employees to higher ranks.
But there appears to be more to the promotions than the Brown administration’s stated desire to save money on overtime and to run a more-efficient department.
The promotions occurred after Human Resources Commissioner Patricia P. Folts refused to certify the payroll for 126 firefighters, because they had worked for a long period outside of their job class, a violation of state civil service law, which was caused by a volume of vacancies in the department.
Mayor Byron W. Brown on Monday said this situation did not force his hand, and the promotions, effective Sept. 5, had been planned and will help the city save money on overtime.
Brown said he couldn’t speak to the payroll issue.
However, Council President Richard A. Fontana said Friday that the promotions were going through because of the payroll issue, and he was glad they were finally being made.
Comptroller Mark J.F. Schroeder, whose department writes the checks that go out of City Hall, inquired in an Aug. 30 letter to the state commissioner of civil service about the legality of paying employees through a claims process, as had been done since Folts did not certify the payroll.
“My problem is now exacerbated because of the administration’s inability to solve the problem,” Schroeder said in an interview late last month.
A copy of Schroeder’s letter was sent to Brown.
State civil service law encourages that civil service promotional lists are followed and that positions are not filled with people in provisional or acting status for months on end, when there are job candidates who have successfully met the civil service requirements to permanently fill the position.
The union that represents most personnel in the department, Buffalo Professional Firefighters Association Local 282, said the vacancies in the higher ranks over the last two years had created a safety issue, because so many new firefighters had been hired and had not been able to have proper on-the-job training.
“We’ve been fighting for this forever,” said union Vice President Thomas P. Barrett. “It should have happened a long time ago.”
The union is pleased the city didn’t skip anyone on civil service lists in making the promotions, Barrett said.
The last time the union questioned why the promotions weren’t happening, the administration said there were “legitimate” reasons and that firefighter health and safety was not being compromised.