City officials did not violate a court order last week when they put five laid-off firefighters on administrative leave instead of allowing them to return to work, an Orange County Superior Court judge said Monday.
But at the same time, Judge Robert E. Thomas ordered the city not to carry out the layoffs until after it has discussed safety factors with firefighters’ union officials. The five firefighters receive full pay while on leave.
Thomas ordered the two sides to meet Wednesday, Thursday and Sept. 9to discuss the layoffs’ effect on “workload and safety.” He ordered them to resolve the dispute as soon as possible.
If the two sides cannot agree, then they would return to court.
Thomas’ decision Monday modified the ruling he made last week, when he ordered reinstatement of firefighters Billie Nelson, Paul Sanchez, Richard Brandt, James Keehn and Tim Creed, who were laid off Aug. 20.
City officials reinstated the five firefighters Thursday, but then immediately placed them on administrative leave, and sought clarification from Thomas about his ruling.
City Atty. Richard Jones said reinstating the firefighters posed “practical and economic” problems for the city.
Jones told the judge that putting the five back to work would complicate staffing schedules. In addition, he said, the city had given the five severance checks. He asked how the city would get back the money, which is equivalent to 120 hours of work.
Under Monday’s instructions, “the firefighters will get paid, but they would not get full employment status,” Jones said later. “The court clarified a great deal today.”
None of the firefighters or officials of the Westminster Firefighters Assn. Local 2425, the firefighters’ union, were present during the hearing. Alan C. Davis, their attorney, was in San Francisco, and the union was not represented at the hearing.
Thomas granted a preliminary injunction Wednesday. He cited case law in saying that if layoffs could result in safety problems, the city cannot reduce staffing unilaterally.
In addition, the injunction prevents the city from eliminating a firetruck at Fire Station No. 2 on Moran Street and reducing certain staffing levels in the department.
The layoffs were part of the city’s efforts to reorganize the department and eliminate overtime costs, which had risen sharply in the last two years, city officials said.