October 13, 2008
State: EMT Worker Layoffs Legal ; City Fire Department Union Plans Appeal
By MATTHEW VAN DUSEN, STAFF WRITER
HACKENSACK -- The city's EMTs suffered another setback this week when the state Personnel Department ruled that the city's layoff plan was legal, further dimming the workers' hopes of winning back their jobs.
The Fire Department emergency medical technicians asked the state to invalidate their layoffs after a Superior Court judge in Bergen County found that the city improperly awarded the daytime ambulance service to Hackensack University Medical Center.
The Fire Department union plans to appeal the Personnel Department's decision to a trial court, but officials said Friday they were frustrated by the decision.
"Every step of the way, this has been done wrong," said Roberto Burgos, the secretary of the Hackensack Professional Fire Fighters Association. "We've [shown] that, and yet they're still able to proceed."
Burgos said city officials have acted in bad faith throughout the dispute, noting that they could have extended the jobs of the EMTs until the ambulance contract was awarded through the bidding process.
Instead, City Manager Steven Lo Iacono used his emergency powers to give the service to the medical center.
Lo Iacono responded that it would have created "chaos" to stop the transfer of the ambulance service to the medical center.
The Fire Department's emergency medical technicians have been out of work for almost a month, and their numbers are starting to dwindle. One of the eight EMTs opted to retire before the Sept. 14 layoffs, and others are worried that their appeals will go nowhere.
EMT Joseph Taylor said he is considering taking a job at another North Jersey town, which he did not want to name, where he could preserve his state pension benefits.
"I can't be out of work too much longer," Taylor said.
He said his salary at the new job would be about half what he was making as an EMT.
"Hopefully, it'll be a good winter and I'll get a lot of plowing in," he added.
The union expects to be in Bergen Superior Court next Thursday for a hearing on a restraining order that would bar the medical center from operating the ambulance service.
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