The Watertown Firefighters are quickly approaching six years without a contract and they wanted to make sure the Town Council did not forget Tuesday night.
About 300 firefighters and their supporters rallied in front of Watertown Town Hall before the Town Council meeting. Some even confronted councilors as the arrived to ask why they have not approved the contract.
Local 1347, the Watertown Fire union, has worked without a contract for nearly six years. The impasse appeared to be over in December 2014, when an independent arbitration board awarded a contract agreement. The Town Council, however, voted 8-1 against funding the agreement saying it would be unfair to other unions in town (read more here).
Watertown Fire Union President Rob Mannix spoke to the Town Council, and said he hoped he would not have to back talking about the contract four months later.
He said the arbitration award was not all favorable to the firefighters.
“We didn’t win. We both gained something. We both lost something,” Mannix said.
The fire contract may be a big issue in November’s Town Election. Ed Kelly, president of the Massachusetts Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, said the Council’s vote to reject the arbitration in essence ended the collective bargaining process, which started with bargaining between the two sides, then went to a mediator before going to the arbitration panel.
“You have successfully taken away collective bargaining, but you can’t take democracy away from the people of Watertown,” Kelly said. “We look forward to bringing good governance back to Watertown.”
The Town Council races could be crowded this fall, with all but one races that will be contested if everyone who has pulled papers files to run (see the list here).
One of the potential candidates – Bob MacCarthy – spoke about his disappointment with the lack of a contract. He pulled papers to run for Town Council President, and worked for the Watertown Fire Department for 34 years, helped negotiate a number of contracts in town, and hundreds of others when he worked with the state union.
“We are a paramilitary organization and we play by the rules,” MacCarthy said. “It is clear this council is not playing by the rules.
“The Council President (Mark Sideris) said (the contract) would be a priority four months ago and now we are back here again.”
The Town Council did not respond to the comments made during Public Forum, a rule followed in most cases during Public Forum. The Council also met in a brief closed session to discuss the fire contract negotiation, along with the negotiations with the Public Works union, the Police Patrol union, the Police Supervisors union, Town Hall Associates and the Library union.