RENO, NV – Reno firefighters who will be laid off on July 1 have sued the city of Reno, arguing the layoffs are in breach of their collective bargaining agreement and put the citizens at risk.
The lawsuit filed today seeks a preliminary injunction against the layoffs.
“The city’s conduct violates both the spirit and the letter of the (collective bargaining agreement) and severely compromises the quality and efficiency of fire protection for the citizens of Reno,” the lawsuit says.
The firefighters and their union, Local 731, argue the city is legally prohibited from laying off firefighters if it has money available to save the jobs.
Union representative Seth Williams said the city’s budget includes an increase in cash reserves, a plan to pay off a building loan and other expenses that could be delayed in order to keep the firefighters employed.
“To make the claim they have no money while increasing their savings account is disingenuous,” Williams said. “No one is out there advocating for public safety. This is about keeping firemen in the fire stations.”
The city announced the layoffs after it learned it had lost a sizable federal grant that had paid to keep 50 firefighters employed. City budgeters found enough money to save 17 jobs. The city issued layoff notices to the remaining 33 firefighters last week.
City Manager Andrew Clinger, who did not immediately return calls for comment, presented a budget this month that uses a lump sum of one-time money– $7.5 million from the Regional Transportation Commission– for such things as paying off the loan used to buy city hall, a $160,000 community engagement plan, parking garage repairs and to increase the city’s cash reserves.
Clinger argues that one-time money shouldn’t be used for ongoing expenses such as salaries. For example, the city relied on grant money that disappeared to keep firefighters employed and now must lay them off.
The firefighters’ lawsuit argues the collective bargaining agreement allows layoffs only in the face of a “lack of work” or a “lack of funds.”
In a notarized declaration, Reno Fire Captain Joe Dolan contended that Reno Finance Director Robert Chisel told him privately that “the city has the money and he would like to see it go to the fire department, but he was told where the money has to go.”
“Lack of funds cannot and should not be confused with an unwillingness to pay,” the lawsuit contends. “While the city may enjoy the privilege of discretionary spending, the city must also acknowledge its legal and moral obligation under the collective bargaining agreement to those fire fighters who stand to lose their jobs.”
Williams said the economy has turned the corner and expects city revenues to recover enough to justify using one-time money now to save jobs. He argues public safety will be irrevocably harmed if the layoffs go through.
Three fire stations will be closed after July 1.