Mayor Reed's showdown with fire, police

One Atlanta councilman used the word "sticky" to describe the atmosphere inside city hall as dozens of firefighters and police officers pressed the local lawmakers to go over the mayor's head and grant them a raise.

The city's public safety employees were excluded from an earlier raise given to many of the general workforce.

And Kasim Reed let it be known his action was intentional. He had vowed not to give fire and police any new money because their unions took the mayor to court over pension reform. And the union bosses call that punishment. Making that linkage, they contend, is illegal.

Ken Allen, the police president, says the mayor has made the issue personal. He told the council he would step down from the union job if they stepped up and approved raises. 

The council took no action. The firefighters and officer left frustrated and warned the city will lose in the end as public safety workers leave for other departments.

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Stephen Borders, President of the Atlanta Professional Fire Fighters, released the following statement Wednesday morning:

“On Monday, July 20th, the Atlanta City Council passed legislation proposed by Mayor Reed providing pay raises for general employees of the City of Atlanta while purposely excluding its fire fighters and police officers. This action was followed by Mayor Kasim Reed grandstanding in front of the media, boasting that the reason for the exclusion was that, and I quote: "It would be ignorant to provide raises to a group of people who are suing us.'

The Mayor added: 'I am not going to approve any budget with a raise while we are being sued for $48 million.'

The action of denying raises because of a lawsuit on a separate issue or in an attempt to coerce us to drop that lawsuit is absolutely illegal, and if this Council goes along with the Mayor’s illegal tactics, then you are condoning his illegal behavior.

Mayor Reed’s stated reasons for denying raises to fire fighters are a clear violation of Atlanta’s fire fighters constitutionally protected first amendment rights to free speech and to petition their government.

Mayor Reed’s antics are also jeopardizing public safety in Atlanta, as well-trained, committed fire fighters are now looking elsewhere to find a city that values their work and to provide for their families.

As President of the Atlanta Professional Fire Fighters, I am here today to make it clear that our union, the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), has pledged to stand with us and provide all of the legal and financial resources necessary to fight this illegal and discriminatory action. Unlike Mayor Reed, the IAFF respects fire fighters and the taxpayers of Atlanta, and they are willing to put their money where their mouth is to make sure this illegal discrimination is stopped.

It is terribly disconcerting that many of Atlanta’s fire fighters and police officers have honorably served our nation in all parts of the world defending and promoting freedom. Then they come home and serve the citizens of Atlanta on the domestic frontlines, only to have those very same rights and principles they fought to defend vindictively trampled by a politician with no respect for the law or our nation’s Constitution.

Atlanta’s fire fighters are asking this Council to stop Mayor Reed. He’s jeopardizing public safety and he’s breaking the law. And we’re asking this Council to start respecting the men and women who put their lives on the line for this city every day.

If the Mayor is allowed to continue his illegal campaign, Atlanta’s taxpayers are the ones who will be footing the legal bills for his reckless, dangerous effort to discriminate against the city’s fire fighters. And it is the taxpayers who will have to foot the bill again as the city will have to recruit and train all the new fire fighters it will need going forward as our bravest leave this great city.”

In response, Mayor Reed issued the following statement:

"Today’s actions by firefighters are wholly hypocritical, unproductive, and inappropriate. 
In January 2011, fire and police sworn officers received a full step pay increase of 3.5%, while their colleagues across the city received only a one-time bonus payment of $450. Now, the employees who did not receive pay increases in 2011 get their turn to receive a fair raise. 

But instead of being good colleagues, a group of firefighters are complaining. Instead of understanding that the City of Atlanta has just emerged from the worst economy in the last 80 years, a group of firefighters are challenging the basis of our financial stability, the pension reform initiative which their union leadership signed onto in 2011.

At the same time these officers are campaigning for a pay raise, their union leaders are maintaining a lawsuit which would undo the reforms that stabilized the City’s finances. Pension reform is the reason why the City of Atlanta is in a position to give raises to any employees. If not for pension reform, hundreds of employees would have been laid off or furloughed. Pension reform put the City back on track and protected the income and retirement savings of thousands of works.

The union is fighting the wrong fight, plain and simple."