City vote could add new jobs to Austin Fire Department

AUSTIN (KXAN) — City Council will vote Thursday on a federal proposal that could lead to the addition of several cadet firefighters. The vote could also lead to legal action by the firefighters union.

A Department of Justice investigation into discriminatory practices halted all hiring since 2013. The investigation started after allegations the fire department did not allow enough time for candidates to finish exams. This left several cadets wondering if they would ever be allowed to join the fire department.

As a potential solution, the Justice Department consent decree calls for:

  • Provisions that allow AFD to resume and complete its current cadet hiring process,
    with some modification to the original design of that process.
  • A requirement that the design and administration of any future cadet hiring process
    during the term of the consent decree is subject to DOJ oversight.
  • A process to provide backpay and/or priority hiring relief to unsuccessful Hispanic
    and African American candidates from the 2012 hiring process who can demonstrate
    eligibility for such relief. The backpay relief component is capped at a maximum of
    $780,000 for all candidates. The priority hiring component includes thirty
    positions in future fire cadet academies, divided between twelve African American
    candidate slots and eighteen Hispanic candidate slots.
  • The length of the consent decree would be a minimum of four years, with the
    possibility of extending the decree for up to an additional four years for good cause
    shown.

The council will vote Thursday on the measures outlined above. The Austin Firefighters Association, the firefighter’s union, is opposed to the decree. Union representatives said the city may follow the 2013 hiring process without a formal federal deal in place since the 2012 hiring issues were corrected. AFA members are planning to protest the decree vote at Thursday’s meeting.

Union president Bob Nicks said today the union will fight a YES decision on the proposal. If that happens, he says hiring could be delayed for several years.

Jason Lewis took the exam in 2012, and he says he passed. But the hiring freeze forced him to find other work. “I never considered giving up, no matter how long it takes,” said Jason. “I want to be a firefighter because of what public service means to the community. I like that community feel, and I have the ability to be a good firefighter. It’ll happen. I just don’t know when.”

Jason could be one of the 30 people who would receive $29,500 in back pay and gain immediate seniority if the federal proposal passes. If it does not pass, he says he will wait until his name comes up. That could mean it would be within a list of 175 that AFD union president says the department would like to add over the next year and a half to two years.

The proposed consent decree would not become effective until approved by both the City Council and Department of Justice, and then by a United States federal judge in a legal proceeding.

The union says it will protest tomorrow’s vote at city council.

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