ATLANTIC CITY — The city’s fire chief will have the final determination on whether the department’s new state-ordered 56-hour workweek compromises public safety, according to a ruling by Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez.
According to the Thursday ruling, the state’s creation of the new work schedule was not done in retaliation against the union.
Mendez said Fire Chief Scott Evans can revert to the 24/48 schedule if he feels it would increase public safety. In June, the state informed the city’s Fire Department it would be starting a new 56-hour workweek. State officials said the move would cut costs.
The city was put under state oversight following years of financial mismanagement.
Evans said attorneys are still reviewing the ruling, and he had no comment.
Under the 24/48 work schedule, firefighters work 24 hours straight and then have 48 hours off.
“The Court has concluded that the Plaintiffs (the International Association of Fire Fighters AFL-CIO Local 198) have failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that Defendants (the state) retaliated against them with respect to the implementation of a 56-hour work week using the 3/4 schedule,” according to the ruling dated July 6. “However, the Court is concerned with the public safety issues associated with this schedule.”
Also in the ruling, Mendez denied the union’s temporary injunction of deputy chief promotions, while granting the union an injunction on battalion chief promotions and the elimination of terminal-leave pay under $15,000.
“Judge Mendez has continued to support changes made to both Police and Fire departments, denying the fire union’s latest attempt to derail necessary changes that will not impact public safety,” said Lisa Ryan, spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Affairs. “Ironically, the fire union has questioned the state’s decision to make necessary promotions to the position of deputy chief and have even questioned whether the appointments were made on merit, which they were.”
Union officials did not return calls seeking comments on the ruling.
“This is a prime example that the fire union’s true motives are not to protect the public but rather to protect their own financial interests,” Ryan said.
Mendez also ordered that both parties maintain open lines of communication and meet a minimum of once a week in person to discuss all issues relevant to the litigation.