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Portland firefighters say federal grant could bring back jobs; city manager disputes union accusations

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Portland firefighters say federal grant could bring back jobs; city manager disputes union accusations

PORTLAND — The firefighters union hopes federal funds expected to become available later this summer can be used to restore the jobs of recently laid-off Fire Department employees.

Winston McGill, president of International Association of Fire Fighters Local 740, said the union has its eye on Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grants. Congress recently voted to allow SAFER funds to be used to rehire laid-off firefighters.

McGill said about $600 million should become available in the next two to three weeks, and the union will ask the city to apply for money to rehire nine firefighters who were dismissed at the end of June and to seek funding to restore 14 jobs cut in 2008.

"The new money is specifically for bringing back laid-off firefighters back to 2008," he said.

City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said the money is not available yet and the city does not know when it will be or what the qualifications will be.

"We don't want people to get the idea that the money is right around the corner," she said. "Certainly we'd look into it, of course."

The firefighters union in June voted against taking a one-year cost-of-living wage freeze that City Manager asked the union to accept as part of the 2010 budget. Nine firefighter positions were eliminated as a result. All of the other city employee unions accepted the wage freeze.

The union has accused Gray of acting in bad faith during recent contract negotiations, saying he knew cuts would have to be made, but did not tell them until after they had reached a tentative contract agreement. The union also said it made alternative cost-saving suggestions to avoid the layoffs, but those suggestions were rejected by the city.

The union ran advertisements in local newspapers last week, with a time-line of contract negotiations and when it was notified of the possible layoffs. A rally was also held last week at City Hall to protest of the layoffs.

Gray disputes the union's time-line. He replied with a letter to union members saying he was troubled by their accusations, and laid out a time-line of his own. Gray said union leadership was notified as far back as February of the cutbacks in the budget. He said he offered the union alternatives to the layoffs, including partial cost-of-living wage increases, but the union rejected the offer.

The union is also disputing how the layoffs were made, saying they should have been based solely on seniority, and not seniority plus training. McGill said the union has asked that an arbitrator be brought in to hear its grievance.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net