NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) -- New Haven's firefighters union is threatening to take the city back to court over the issue of promotion tests, just like in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision several years ago.
The New Haven Fire Department needs to fill positions at every level. Right now there are people making twice their salary in overtime filling all the shifts. The city wants to promote people to the rank of lieutenant first, but the union says the way it's always been done is to promote people at the top first and what the city is trying to do is called 'underfilling'.
"Underfilling is illegal because it violates the city's charter and the city's civil service rules and regulations," said
Lt. James Kottage, president of Fire Fighters Local 825.
How and who to promote within the New Haven Fire Department could end up back in court.
"Like we say, we see fires on the outside, but unfortunately we see fires on the inside and we have to put a stop to it," said Lt Gary Tinney, president of the Black Firefighters Association.
The last time there was a promotions test, the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. That was in 2003. No black firefighters passed the test, so the city threw out the results. Twenty white and Hispanic firefighters sued for discrimination and won. This time the controversy is over the order in which promotions are happening.
"Because we are going to do a lieutenant test this year and a captain test next year," said Rob Smuts, chief administrative officer for the City of New Haven. "Fairly standard practice. But to get as many supervisors immediately, we created more lieutenant positions to bring them up."
Creating more lieutenants, and not funding twelve captain positions. Adding lower, cheaper positions is what the union calls "underfilling."
"And the chief says that we need more supervisors. Well then, do the process," Lt. James Kottage said. "Promote captains, then you promote lieutenants. Start at the top -- deputy chiefs, battalion chiefs."
The city says it will fill the higher positions, after it fills lieutenant positions and brings down the $6 million it paid in overtime last year.
"This is a way of adding supervisors to the department that is critical to supervision of the department and the well-functioning of the department, and it is critical to get that overtime down," Smuts said.
"If you're flying a plane, who would you rather have fly the plane; the guy who's landed once or the guy who's landed hundreds of times," Lt. Kottage said.
Most importantly, the union says if the city thinks this way will save money, it's wrong. That's because the union will sue over the illegal underfilling and the legal fees will end up costing the city millions of dollars anyway.
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