Town Council Rejects Watertown Firefighters Contract

Print More

Despite pleas from firefighters to end the long standing contract dispute and an award decided by a neutral arbitrator the Town Council rejected the Watertown Firefighters contract on Tuesday.

Members of Local 1347 have worked for more than five years without a contract. When negotiations failed, the town and the union went to mediation and finally they took the process to a state arbitrator.

The arbitrator’s award came out in October, and called for $2.74 million in back pay for raises, longevity payment and for EMT qualifications.

The firefighters had plenty of backing from the Watertown Fire Department – which filled the room at Town Hall, along with labor leaders from the local, state and national level. They also got support Kathy Malone, who is married to a WFD captain and sister of Ed Walsh, who died fighting a fire last year as a member of the Boston Fire Department.

“The people of Watertown lined the streets when they brought (Eddy) home, when they brought him to the church for the funeral and when they took him to the cemetery,” Malone said. “They should that this community cares, and I ask you to show that you care, too.”

Steven Tolman, the president of the AFL-CIO of Massachusetts and former state senator who grew up in Watertown, said that the people who put their lives on the line as first responders deserve a raise, especially after going without one for more than five years.

“I hate to stand here in the town where I grew up and have the Town Council turn their back on firefighters on an arbitration,” Tolman said.

The town has money in reserves to pay for the backpay. Town Manager Michael Driscoll proposed using $2 million from the Fiscal 2015 Town Council Reserve and the $739,759 from Fiscal 2015 Town Health Insurance Fund.

Councilors Weigh In

Town Councilor Vincent Piccirilli said that the award includes raises that go back to a time when all the other town and school unions agreed to take no raise.

“This arbitration award includes a 3 percent raise back to 2009. Because of that I cannot support it because of fairness,” Piccirilli said. “Because of the fiscal crisis in 2007, there were no raises for two years. All the other five unions agreed.”

The decision was difficult, said Councilor Aaron Dushku, but he said it came down to an issue of fairness. He wanted to be fair to other workers in town.

“You said it is a drop in the bucket, but a lot of drops fill the bucket,” Dushku said. “We have other unions and other services that we want in Watertown.”

Councilor Cecilia Lenk said town workers are not the only ones who struggled during the economic downturn.

“Residents saw wage decreases and job losses. Some have not yet recovered and some will never recover,” Lenk said. “I believe a no vote is faire to all Watertown employees and the entire community.”

The lone councilor to support the contract was Tony Palomba, who said he supported the contract because he believes the union followed the right process, and not reject the contract “because (the town) did not get the contract they wanted.”

“I believe when you engage in a process, you respect the process,” Palomba said.

The Council voted 8-1 against the contract.

Union Reaction

Rob Mannix, president of the firefighters union, was disappointed by the council’s decision.

“”I am thoroughly disgusted,” Mannix said. “We played by every rule and did not step out of bounds once.”

He also refuted the fact that the firefighters got a three percent raise, noting that they also agreed to the no raise for two years, followed by 2.5 percent raises in Fiscal 2012 and 2013 – just like other unions.

“The three percent is part of the (arbitration award),” Mannix said. “It is for EMT training. It is not a raise.”

Firefighters gave up other payments, said former union president Tom Thibaut said. The union gave up sick leave buyback, which other unions do not have.

“That is worth millions to us,” Thibaut said.

Town Council President Mark Sideris said he hopes that Driscoll and members of the firefighters union can restart talks and come up with an contract that is agreeable for both sides.

The union may get help from higher places after the arbitration was rejected. Mike Mullane, vice president of the International Association of Firefighters, came up from Washington, DC, for the meeting and said that the national union will not take the decision lightly.

“Failure to fund the arbitration award means (the national union) will fund the local to get word out and tell the people of Watertown about what happened,” Mullane said.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *