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Posted November 13, 2009 EST

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Laid-off Lawrence Firefighters Back To Work Sunday
Eight firefighters who have been off the job for more than three months are headed back to work Sunday. Mayor Michael Sullivan and Fire Chief Peter Takvorian officially accepted $537,000 in federal stimulus money during a brief ceremony yesterday with U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas.

Tsongas stressed the importance of the stimulus funds, restoring jobs that would be otherwise lost in a poor economy.

"We all know how important the recovery package is for preserving jobs," Tsongas said.

The fire department is also hoping to qualify for the next round of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding, to get money to restore cut electrician and dispatcher positions.

The firefighters' salaries will now be paid using federal stimulus money -- not the city budget, officials said yesterday.

Last summer, the city originally planned to lay off the eight firefighters. But they appealed the layoffs and while a hearing decision was pending, the firefighters continued to receive full pay but were barred from coming to work.

After yesterday's grant ceremony, Sullivan said it was "unacceptable" it took so long for a decision on the layoff appeal to be issued.

The firefighters were laid off Aug. 14 and the hearing decision was received on Nov. 3. The decision favored the city, saying the firefighters could be laid off due to budgetary cuts, Sullivan said.

"There's really no excuse for that from our legal and personnel department," said Sullivan. He also accepted his share of the blame, noting as mayor "this is really a reflection on me."

"I'm extremely upset it took so long to get that finding back," he said.

In addition to the eight firefighters who were laid off, the department has 18 unfilled positions and three firefighters recently retired.

Budget constraints prohibit Takvorian from filling the open jobs anytime soon.

While other city unions agreed to unpaid furlough days this fiscal year, the firefighters have not agreed to cost-saving concessions. Union officials have said the firefighters' schedules make furloughs impossible. Also, for the past five years, the department has been saddled with the increasing number of unfilled positions.

Two firehouses on Tower and Prospect Hills are closed due to budget cuts.

Without furloughs or another concession plan in writing, Sullivan said the fire department is still subject to layoffs.

Written by The Eagle-Tribune

Courtesy of YellowBrix - YellowBrix