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Longtime firefighters union president calling it quits

Local 2 President Tom Ryan (right) at visitation in 2010 for a firefighter, Corey Ankum, who was killed in the line of duty. | Sun-Times file photo

Tom Ryan broke the mold as the three-term president of a firefighters union with a history of changing horses every election.

Now that longevity record is about to be broken.

Rank-and-file firefighters and paramedics were informed this week that their leader for the last nine years is calling it quits as president of the Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2. He’s not running for re-election.

Instead, former Union President Dan Fabrizio, who’s now serving as legislative director for Local 2, will face off against business agent Jim Tracy.

Ryan, Fabrizio and Tracy could not be reached for comment. Sources said Ryan retired in November — after 34 years as a Chicago firefighter.

The changing of the guard at Local 2 comes as the union gears up to negotiate another contract.

Five years ago, Mayor Rahm 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 ends 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 and paramedics that’s more like an “automatic cash bonus” because it’s “completely unmoored from any determination of actual need or use.”

The uniform allowance — $1,250 or $1,500, depending on the assignment — is supposed to be used for the maintenance and cleaning of uniforms.

In his audit, Ferguson compared “uniform issuances, exchanges and allowances” at the Chicago Fire Department to similar spending in New York City, Philadelphia, Toronto, Dallas, San Diego and Indianapolis.

The Chicago Fire Department issued fewer dress and work uniform items to new hires than most other cities and spent less per employee than any other city surveyed.

But, that “comparative advantage is more than offset” by an annual uniform allowance that is among the most generous in the nation, Ferguson concluded.

“Purportedly provided to pay for the annual maintenance and cleaning of uniforms, the allowance is completely unmoored from any determination of actual need or use,” Ferguson wrote.

“In addition, CFD does not monitor or audit how [or for what] members spend their allowance once it’s disbursed. As a result, this substantial annual stipend, one of the most generous in the nation, more closely resembles an automatic cash bonus. It therefore merits rigorous scrutiny and reassessment in the context of the city’s 2017 bargaining round with Local 2. … The sizable uniform allowance given to CFD personnel represents an additional opportunity for improved budgetary transparency, accountability and savings.”

In yet another audit, Ferguson concluded that the Fire Department could save at least $1.2 million a year and potentially millions more in overtime by hiring civilians to perform 34 administrative jobs that have nothing to do with firefighting or emergency medical service.

One of the slots listed as a potential civilian position was the job of “commissary liaison,” charged with resolving “uniform exchange disputes between members and the outside vendor.” The job is currently filled by a fire department captain.

Last fall, Local 2 took vote of no-confidence in Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago in response to the commissioner’s 60-day suspension of a lieutenant who refused to send underlings into an area where they might be exposed to Ebola.

At the time, Ryan said the no-confidence vote and subsequent petition drive was triggered by the city’s decision to appeal an arbitrator’s ruling.

“Local 2 is expected to honor arbitrator’s rulings — good or bad. Arbitrator Zimmerman was very clear in her ruling that Lt. Spallina was vindicated and should be made whole. The petition is in response to this CFD action,” Ryan wrote then in a text message to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Santiago subsequently dropped the appeal. He insisted that the decision had nothing to do with the no-confidence vote or the petition drive.

“I made my decision based on the facts. … We gave it our best shot. [But] if you look at all of the facts, I did not feel confident that the city would win. … I did not want the city to lose,” the commissioner said then.