Bethany Firefighter Loses Job Following Raise Agreement For Co-Workers

Thursday, January 2nd 2014, 10:21 pm
By: News 9

A metro firefighter is being laid off following a bitter budget battle.

The Bethany Fire Department says it's one of the busiest departments in the Oklahoma City area; it's under-staffed and the loss will be a big one.

News 9 first told you this story last month that the Bethany Fire Department was awarded an eight percent increase. But the firefighters say they had no idea that raise could cost them one of their own.

"It's still hard, you know, knowing that today is my last shift as of right now," said rookie Bethany firefighter Josh Morgan.

12/15/2013 Related Story: Bethany Firefighters' Raise Comes With Strings Attached

Morgan says he got a letter from the city of Bethany, saying on Jan. 3, he will be laid off from the Bethany Fire Department. It's a job he's dreamed of for years and says he is stunned he has to go.

"I love my job and love the guys I work with," said Morgan, also a father of three with another child due in two weeks. "I had full intentions of doing my whole career here of you know 30 years, I didn't plan on going anywhere."

The firefighters union, Local 2085, says the city's budget is to blame. Bethany Fire won an eight percent pay raise in arbitration on Dec. 2.

The Bethany Mayor and City Manager say the fire department knew in advance a job could be cut with the raise. But the firefighters say they were broadsided and the job cut is retaliation.

"It was never brought up in negotiations that they were going to lay off any firefighters," said Brian Murray, Bethany firefighter and  Local 2085 Union president.

The fire department says they're already down two firefighters and a deputy chief, and are paid far less than the average salary for a firefighter in the metro.

"We fought really hard for this, and the money's there. We've proved it's there several times now," Murray said.

The union filed a grievance with the city, and says it's fighting to keep Josh's job but the citizens of Bethany will take the biggest loss.

"Every time you take away another firefighter, that's just taking away another job on a fire scene. It's less safe for us and the city of Bethany."

The Bethany firefighters say even with this eight percent raise, they're still behind when it comes to average pay for the metro. Bethany Mayor Bryan Taylor emailed this statement:

"This whole thing is very simple.  Bethany brings in less sales tax per capita than any other metro city.  We simply cannot afford to pay metro average wages to our employees.   You truly cannot put a price on public safety, but we simply cannot afford to keep giving raises this large when we have a general fund budget that is actually down $214,203 in total revenue from this point last year.

There will be a modest savings in what we will pay to EMSA this year over last year, which could help pay for this but it is going to be a little less than half of what is needed, so it just doesn't work. 

We are only asking that they take a 4 percent raise instead of an 8 percent. That extra 4 percent is almost the exact amount of what our total compensation package is to Mr. Morgan."