When Max Carrero stood in front of the city council, he nervously laughed. After getting comfortable, he began to speak. Carrero, and a few other firefighters, questioned the city’s decision to add him to the layoff list at Monday’s Newburgh City Council meeting.
Carrero has been a firefighter for many years, and a city resident. He is also only one of five Spanish-speaking firefighters in a department that serves a predominantly Hispanic community.
Almost three weeks ago, he found out that he was added to the layoff list of 14 uniformed firefighters and two vacant firefighter positions.
“I was shocked,” said Carrero outside of the city council chambers. “I was confused, I didn’t know what to say.”
According to Carrero, under state and local civil service laws, the least senior firefighters must be the first to be laid off. By adding Carrero to the layoff list, the city will be bypassing a firefighter who is new by over a year.
“I am a member who was hired off of the firefighters found through the Spanish-speaking exam of April of 2015,” said Carrero in front of the council. “A firefighter who was hired off of this preferred list has to meet the requirements of a firefighter, with the added requirement of already being proficient in Spanish. There is no pay difference or additional monetary stipend, nor is the job position different.”
Carrero believes that Spanish-speaking firefighters are not a unit, like mentioned in civil service guideline requiring members from each unit to be laid off. According to Carrero, unit is defined in the guidelines as “each department of a city, town or village.” As a result, a unit would be a whole department, like the fire department.
At the end of his comment, Mayor Torrance Harvey addressed Carrero. “City council does not get involved with human resource matters,” said Harvey.
“We vote on the budget, and we know there are some layoffs between the police and the fire department,” said Harvey. “No one’s happy about that. We’ve expressed our disdain for having to do that, and this is where we are.” Harvey emphasized that the council does not directly influence hiring and firing of city employees. According to Harvey, that decision falls directly on the civil service department.
“Spanish-speaking roles are collateral titles, they’re separately classified titles,” said Corporation Counsel Michelle Kelson. Kelson explained they have separate seniority, layoff, and recall lists.
“Even if they’re [city administrators] going to stick to the Spanish-speaking list,” said Brendan Hogan, Firefighters Local 589 President, outside of the city council chambers, “Max should be able to retreat back to their normal firefighters list, [because on the normal firefighters list Carrero still has seniority].”
After speaking with state officials and other entities, “we’re confident that we’ve followed the rules and regulations, “said Kelson. Kelson said all questions can be submitted in written format, and will be responded to in written format.
“We emailed them about a week and a half ago [on the situation],” said Hogan, “We’re still waiting for more clarification.” Kelson explained that the email will be responded to, after City Manager Joe Donat returns from his break.
“They kind of picked 20 percent out of everything, and I’m not sure why,” said Hogan. “It seems like, whatever they do to get as close to 20 percent is some misguided notion. Because when they’re doing the layoffs, it should be fairly across the board. All it did was muddy the waters more. What’s it’s going to result in is, more overtime. It’s going to result in them having to severance out more people, and paying more of an upfront cost to institute the plan.”
At the end of Carrero’s presentation, Harvey mentioned that the city will also be looking into allegations that firefighters have been using an Ann street address to receive resident preference on applications.
“I just hope that they do what they’ve done in the past, and just go by the seniority list,” said Carrero outside of the city council chambers. “I have plans that I’ve been working on as a backup [if laid off], but my hopes are that I won’t have to resort to that.”