Akron Fire ditches officer promotion exam

A new contract calls for replacing promotion tests with formal education and seniority; the move comes after a decade-long discrimination lawsuit


By Stephanie Warsmith
The Akron Beacon Journal

AKRON, Ohio — Akron will no longer use a test for fire department promotions.

The city will instead rely on education and seniority.

A three-year contract recently approved by the fire union includes a new promotional process that is aimed at avoiding a repeat of years of legal challenges over promotional tests that caused a depletion of the department's ranks.

"This is going to be groundbreaking," said Russ Brode, president of the approximately 340-member fire union.

"It's a game changer," agreed Randy Briggs, Akron's deputy mayor of labor relations.

Akron will have a news conference at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday at Station 4, 25 E. Thornton St., to discuss the promotional change.

The new process will start when Akron's current promotional lists expire. Firefighters still will need to spend a certain amount of time in each rank before they can be promoted. When they are eligible, they will be required to complete national standard classes. Promotions will be made based on completion of the classes and time in grade or the number of years firefighters have been in their current rank.

"This is really giving people a road map," Brode said.

The new contract language is a reaction to a decade-long federal discrimination lawsuit that challenged fire promotional tests given by Akron in 2004. The city and plaintiff firefighters finally settled the lawsuit in December, with the only outstanding issue being a determination of attorney fees.

The long-pending suit resulted in a long halt to promotions in the fire department. Firefighters routinely filled in as officers on a temporary basis when they had less training and earned lower pay than permanently promoted firefighters.

Akron gave a promotional test for lieutenants last July and promoted 45 firefighters to the rank -- the most promoted at once to a single rank in the department's history.

The city recently gave a promotional exam for captains and is interviewing the candidates. Plans to promote 16 captains will create the need for more lieutenants. These promotions will be made from the current promotional list, Briggs said.

The Blue Ribbon Task Force appointed by Mayor Dan Horrigan after he took office in January recommended a change to the promotional process for firefighters.

No bonus points

The new fire union contract includes no bonus points in promotions for resident or veteran status.

The issue of bonus points was recently raised regarding the city's latest promotional test for captains. The city and police union struck a deal not to award bonus points for the captain promotions.

A group of black firefighters, however, argued the step discriminated against them. Attorney Ed Gilbert sent a letter to the city last month claiming that the no-bonus agreement violates the union contract and city charter and asking that Akron not issue grades or create an eligibility list.

Wages rise

In January, Akron reached a three-year agreement with the fire union and three other bargaining units on wages and health care benefits. The agreement, also extended to all other city employees besides the mayor, awarded a 3 percent raise this year and 2.5 percent raises in each of the next two years. Employees were required to pay more for health care.

After the pact was reached, the city began negotiating with the four unions on contract language specific to each union. Akron recently inked a deal with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and reached a tentative agreement with the police union that officers will vote on this Wednesday through Friday.

The Civil Service Personnel Association (CSPA) contract remains unsettled. Briggs is hoping the two sides will have an agreement after one to two more meetings.

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(c)2016 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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