After a 14-month prohibition against hiring local firefighter candidates due to a NAACP lawsuit against North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue (NHRFR), the department has won their fight to have a court injunction lifted and will now be able to hire from their own list of candidates.
The NHRFR serves North Bergen, Guttenberg, Union City, West New York, and Weehawken.
A federal judge in February 2009 placed an injunction on the NHRFR, prohibiting them from hiring new firefighters unless they used a court-mandated list that broadened eligible candidates to residents of Hudson, Essex, and Union counties. The NAACP alleged that the department discriminated against African-Americans.
Before that, the NHRFR only hired candidates who lived in its five towns. The NHRFR officials stated that hiring off the newly-broadened list would unfairly compromise the chances of Hispanic candidates, who make up a large segment of the local population.
“We are pleased that Judge Debevoise agreed that our residents would have been unfairly impacted by this injunction.” – Richard Turner
“North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue has fought hard to preserve these jobs for all North Hudson residents,” said NHRFR Chairman and Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner last week. “This injunction being vacated is also a major victory for our position that NHRFR membership should reflect the ethnic diversity of our five towns.”
According to a press release from the NHRFR, U.S. District Court Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise ruled two weeks ago that the NAACP suit “did not have a likelihood of success on its merits” because the NHRFR had made a strong case for using residency requirements for hiring.
“We are pleased that Judge Debevoise agreed that our residents would have been unfairly impacted by this injunction,” Turner said.
According to NHRFR, their New Jersey Civil Service Commission entry level list is composed entirely of North Hudson residents, many of whom are Hispanic.
The NHRFR first filed its appeal against the original injunction on March 4, 2009 with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, which remanded the case back down to the U.S. District Court on March 1 for reconsideration of the injunction.
The NHRFR was sued eight years ago by Hispanic members of the force, who claimed they were being discriminated against. Part of the department’s response was hiring from a list of local residents, part of an affirmative action plan that would increase the number of Hispanic firefighters.
According to the press release, the NHRFR’s litigation expert believes that Judge Debevoise ruled that expanding the hiring list would have displaced the Hispanic candidates with non-Hispanic candidates from outside North Hudson.
When will hiring begin?
North Hudson Firefighters Association President Dominick Marino said that since last year, the NHRFR has claimed they haven’t been able to hire because of the injunction, but now that it is lifted, they still haven’t begun the hiring process.
“It is just a political game,” said Marino. “I just think they are going to give the public false hope.”
Marino said that the NHRFR is still rotating the closure of two engine companies and said that there is talk of permanently closing a firehouse after the spring election season is over. He said he wants to hire and staff those firehouses and fears that the safety of the public was at risk.
The NHRFR in the past has said that the firehouses over-cover North Hudson, and that the rotating closure of engine companies is a cost-saving measure due to excess overtime costs.
Also announced at the meeting, hiring application deadlines for the NHRFR have been extended to May 29. Interested candidates may visit www.nhrfr.net or may pick up an application at NHRFR headquarters, located at 11 Port Imperial Blvd., West New York, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.