Ward: Under the fire truckWritten by Lisa Renee Ward | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Initially, the position of the Village of Ottawa Hills was that its 10 fire department employees would lose no pay or benefits with the proposed Toledo merger.
Ottawa Hills told residents in a letter dated Oct. 18, “All of our full-time employees will be offered comparable positions and compensation by the Toledo Fire Department.”
That changed, but the language within the agreement did not change on compensation. The agreement that was approved on Dec. 20 by the Village Council of Ottawa Hills and is still pending before Toledo City Council states in Section 10:
“The parties agree that, to the extent practicable and permitted by law, VOH Fire Department employees retaining employment with the Toledo Fire Department shall not suffer any material reduction or loss of wages, fringe benefits, sick leave fund balance or retirement benefits as a result of the implementation of this Agreement.”
On Oct. 15, the City of Toledo sent each of the 10 a letter outlining the position and salary they would receive. A Dec. 15 letter was issued in its place and it was implied they would be hired at the beginning firefighter salary at one point.
Jennifer Sorgenfrei, public information officer for Toledo, said via e-mail on Dec. 28, “Pay rates would not transfer from Ottawa Hills, but would be commensurate with experience — for example, a firefighter with 5 years on the Ottawa Hills force would be paid at the rate of a firefighter with 5 years on the Toledo force (plus the paramedic rate where applicable).”
Four of the Ottawa Hills fire staff would receive a cut in salary with Fire Chief James Sedlar receiving the largest salary reduction. The Oct. 15 letter from Toledo offered him a salary of $75,312.64 at the rank of captain, with a 3.5 percent raise Jan. 7 — the salary for a firefighter with 22 years of service is $56,456.29 before the raise.
An Oct. 25 e-mail obtained by Toledo Free Press from Ottawa Hills Village Administrator Marc Thompson to Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat said the change in wages for Sedlar would be “significant.” He wrote, “We have said from the beginning that how our people were treated was critical. These two recent developments are inconsistent with our discussions and the information provided to our people.”
The Dec. 15 letter does not list a salary. It states, “As part of the merger, you will become a City of Toledo Fire Fighter provided you meet several conditions.” Those conditions include passing a medical examination, being current on taxes owed to Toledo and being compliant with any child support order.
Thompson confirmed Dec. 28 that despite the agreement the Village Council of Ottawa Hills approved committing there would be no material reduction or loss of wages, the four would see their wages reduced. He said he was unaware of any plan to amend the language.
Sedlar spoke to Toledo Free Press on Jan. 4. He confirmed he was going to take the largest cut in pay, even though it was previously promised he and the other fire staff would not see their wages cut.
“I am 26 months away from retirement, I really don’t have a choice,” he said.
“Acceptance” is the word Sedlar used on the possibility of going from fire chief, with more than two decades of service in Ottawa Hills, to a Toledo firefighter. It’s the only way he can collect a full pension should the merger go through.
The City of Toledo does not plan to amend the language in the agreement. Sorgenfrei wrote on Dec. 28, “Section 10 refers to ‘the parties’, not exclusively to Toledo and further addresses wages and benefits as to ‘the extent practicable and permitted by law’.”
Despite the legalese cited as a reason to not amend the agreement so that it is more accurate, Ottawa Hills changed its position from what it stated to its residents amd employees.
Toledo originally agreed to no loss in wages. While some may not think it’s that big of a deal to throw the four under the fire truck, the same promises as far as attempting to make sure employees are “made whole” have been bandied about in the discussion of the elimination of Toledo’s trash service.
It’s a fire truck today, but tomorrow it could be a garbage truck. The larger question — when is a promise really a promise? — is left unanswered.
Toledo Free Press contributor Lisa Renee Ward operates the political blog GlassCityJungle.com.