OP-ED: Town Manager’s Statement on the Fire Contract Negotiations

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At Tuesday’s Town Council meeting Town Manager Michael Driscoll addressed the situation with the Local 1347 firefighters union contract and the Council’s vote in December.

Here is his statement:

In recent weeks there have been media articles and Letters to the Editor written about the Town Council’s decision on December 9, 2014 to reject a request to fund the arbitration award that was issued in connection with the Town’s efforts to reach a successor collective bargaining agreement with the Fire Union. Some of that discussion has included comments that the Union and the Town Manager followed a process – the arbitration process – and suggested that the Town Council’s vote somehow violated that process. Contrary to what some would have the public believe, however, the Town Council, by state statute, was also given a role in the overall process and that was to decide whether to fund or not fund an arbitration award like the one that was issued in this case.

As set forth in Chapter 1078 of the Acts of 1973, once the Arbitrator issued his award the Executive Branch – in this case the Town Manager – was required to submit to the Legislative Branch – the Town Council – a request for an appropriation necessary to fund the award. As the local appropriating board for the Town of Watertown, one of the Town Council’s primary responsibilities in general is to decide how the Town’s limited tax dollars will be spent and to what degree. Unlike what some have suggested, however, the Town Council was not legally obligated to simply rubber stamp the Arbitrator’s Award. In fact, the Statute expressly states as follows: “If the municipal legislative body votes not to approve the request for appropriation, the decision or determination shall cease to be binding on the parties and the matter shall be returned to the parties for further bargaining.” For the reasons expressed by the members of the Town Council at their December 9th meeting, the Council considered the matter and ultimately decided to turn down the request to fund the award. Upon the Town Council doing so, the arbitration award ceased to be binding on the parties and the matter was to be returned to the parties for further negotiations.

Consistent with this, on December 10th I reached out to the Fire Union President in an effort to begin the dialogue on those negotiations and offered to meet with him. Understandably, the holidays are a busy time of the year and the Union President indicated to me that such a meeting would likely have to wait until after the holidays. In light of this, I asked him to provide me with available dates and times to meet in January. Although I have not heard back from the Fire Union President in this regard, I am hopeful that I will soon so that the Town and the Union can engage in the further bargaining that is contemplated under the statued.

[Ed. Note: Fire Union President Rob Mannix said Tuesday night that he had responded to the Town Manager’s request by email, and said he would not sit down and negotiate without other members of the union’s negotiations team. He also had a family emergency in December that prevented him from devoting his full attention to the contract negotiations.]

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