A veteran business agent who campaigned on a promise to add five more ambulances and bring “immediate relief” to 300 retired members without health insurance is the new president of the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2.
Jim Tracy beat out former Union President Dan Fabrizio for the open seat vacated by the retirement of three-term union president Tom Ryan.
Both candidates were union insiders and members of the executive board. Jim Tracy was the 4th District business agent. Fabrizio was in charge of political action.
Tracy was the runaway winner with 59 percent of the vote after promoting himself to the rank-and-file as a “pro-active, transparent, committed unifier” with the slogan, “Not Afraid to Get a Little Dirty!”
His campaign poster highlights nine promises that include: providing “immediate relief” for 300 retired members without Medicare or other health insurance; putting five more advanced life support ambulances in service; restoring the paramedic clothing allowance so “they can buy a bulletproof vest”; and establishing a paramedicine division of the Fire Prevention Bureau.
Tracy could not be reached for comment.
He also promised to: stop “runaway legal bills suddenly an extra $300,000-a-year”; allow retired members ages 60 to 63 to “rescind their furloughs for their buyout”; lower the threshold to 25 years of service to earn a so-called “Grandpa Day,” awarded as an extra furlough day to the most senior members (it is now 26 or 27 years); activate a post-retirement medical savings plan; get firefighters and paramedics out of the Chicago Healthy Lives Program.
The poster also brands as “inexcusable,” “ill-advised” or “disappointing” decisions made by the Ryan regime or under the retiring president’s watch. They include: “prosecuting seven of our union brothers & sisters; not bringing 16 percent raise to the board and not going to arbitration to get our pension millions of dollars owed.”
Asked to respond to the criticism, Ryan said, “Yeah? So? Jim will do a fine job in his new role. He’ll have the full support of my office and his transition.”
The promise to add five more ambulances is certain to come as music to the ears of veteran paramedics.
Earlier this month, Emanuel and Ryan blamed each other for a broken promise to add “at least” five ambulances by July 1, 2016.
The mayor said he sent a letter to Local 2 in January 2015, seeking to comply with a side-letter to the firefighters contract by forming a six-person committee to come to a consensus on the placement of the five new ambulances,” but “has not received the union’s appointments” to that committee.
Ryan insisted that he had “no record of receiving such a letter” and it was a moot point in any event because there are not enough “single-role paramedics” to fill new ambulances.
“Adding additional ambulances without also adding a sufficient number of single-role paramedics to staff them makes no sense and is unsafe and impractical,” he said.
The changing of the guard at Local 2 comes at a time when the union is gearing up to negotiate another contract.
Five years ago, Emanuel took aim at treasured union perks that included the clothing allowance; holiday and duty-availability pay; pay grades; premium pay; non-duty lay-up coverage; a physical fitness incentive and a 7 percent premium paid to cross-trained firefighter-paramedics.
The mayor subsequently backed away from all of those concession demands in a pre-election contract that won him the surprise endorsement of Local 2, a union that had endorsed mayoral challenger Gery Chico over Emanuel in 2011.
The contract that expires June 30 called for Chicago firefighters, paramedics and emergency medical technicians to get an 11 percent pay raise over five years, but ended free health care for those who retire between the ages of 55 and 65.
Ryan returned the favor by signing on to a deal that gave Chicago 15 more years to ramp up to a 90 percent funding level for police and fire pensions.
Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed that bill. But three Republican crossover votes helped Emanuel overturn the governor’s veto.
Now, Emanuel is under pressure to get tough with the union again.
Last year, Inspector General Joe Ferguson concluded that Chicago taxpayers were shelling out $5 million a year to provide a uniform allowance to firefighters that’s more like an “automatic cash bonus” because it’s “completely unmoored from any determination of actual need or use.”
Ald. Nick Sposato (38th), a former Chicago firefighter, noted that the minimum-manning requirement that triggered the 1980 firefighters strike will not expire until 2019. All other aspects of the union contract will be negotiated this year.
Sposato called Tracy a “loyal soldier for 20 years” whose promise to hold the city to its promise to add five ambulances shows he will be a strong representative for his members.
“We certainly need more ambulances. But we cannot man these ambulances until we get more paramedics on the job,” Sposato said Wednesday.
Sposato acknowledged that will require more frequent entry-level and promotional testing.
“I’ve been saying that forever. You know how often we have a fire test. It’s every 10 years — whether we need it or not,” the alderman said facetiously.
“We need paramedic [testing] much more often,” he said. “Their 24 hours is go, go, go. Constant runs. Twenty-five runs a day. Hot summer days, they really get beat up.”