Several Atlantic City workers unions are hoping that vocal public opposition will help reverse drastic cuts to the city’s police and fire departments.
On Friday the unions announced a public awareness campaign that will use billboards, direct mail, and online advertising as well as leafleting and door-to-door canvassing to argue against the reductions in compensation and staff.
The cuts are being made not by local politicians but rather by state officials, who have been in charge of the struggling resort town since the Christie administration took over in November amid a growing budget gap.
The message of the campaign is, in part, political. “There’s an election this November,” said Charles Wowkanech, president of the state AFL-CIO. ” The community is going to make sure that, the people that stand up with us, they’ll support. And the people that don’t stand up with us won’t get any of our support.”
Officials also warned that there could be serious public safety risks as a result of the cuts, which include pay and benefit reductions as well as proposed layoffs at both the police and fire departments.
Mayor Don Guardian said that the firefighters were willing to accept pay cuts and changes to their benefits, but the state’s proposal to lay off 100 firefighters goes too far.
“We’re not going to be able to put out fires. We’re not going to get there with Narcan to save someone that’s overdosed. And we’re not going to be there with the defibrillator in time to bring your loved ones back,” said Guardian.
Lisa Ryan, a spokesman for the state Department of Community Affairs, which is in charge of Atlantic City, said the cuts were necessary and do not compromise public safety.
“Similar to our police reforms, our plan for the City’s fire department maintains public safety while advancing overdue, reasonable reforms that will lead to a much more efficient fire department and that are necessary to address in the face of the financial crisis confronting Atlantic City,” said Ryan, who claimed the cuts will save the city tens of millions of dollars.
On Friday a judge ruled that state officials could proceed with their plan to cut pay and benefits at the fire department but blocked proposed layoffs until the trial moves forward.
The police union filed a similar lawsuit against the state on Wednesday after negotiations over the cost-cutting measures broke down.
Josh Vadell, an Atlantic City police officer who was shot in the head in the line of duty in September and is still recovering, said the cuts have opened up a chasm between public servants in Atlantic City and Trenton officials now overseeing the local government.
“We all took an oath to protect the citizens of the state. Who would’ve thought we’d have to protect the citizens from the state?”