LETTER: Former Council President Reacts to Firefighter Contract Dispute

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Watertown City Hall

Watertown Town Hall

Watertown Town Hall

Editor,

I am writing regarding the Bullet Points [see below for full text] presented by the Town Manager, on June 9, 2015, that was clearly crafted by Kopelman and Paige and accepted by eight of nine of the Watertown’s Town Council regarding the role of the Council. Clearly the Town Council is the duly elected appropriating body of the “City, Known as the Town of Watertown.”

Interestingly, either by omission or deliberate, the Town Attorney, or should I bluntly state, The Manager’s Attorney fails to include in the Manager’s discourse that the Town Council is also the elected Policy Making Body for the Town. It is my impression that the Councilors may not be as knowledgeable of the Charter as one would expect and/or are shielding themselves behind a permeable shield that is easily penetrated.

In the many years I served on the Council/School Committee, we provided policy guidance and direction to the Town Manager and School Superintendent on matters of collective bargaining with our valued public servants. Of interest to the public should be that the Town Manager has the privilege of voting on the contract with our teachers; however not the overriding or veto vote on the contract. In all of my years on both committees, I never witnessed him voting in the affirmative.

Alternatively, I have never observed him not accepting a contract proposed by the council.

The Council is elected to lead and apparently even though we have established sub-committees, either they are not being used effectively as is the case with the Public Safety Committee or they are simply dysfunctional. Talking to various people, a common complaint is that we have unprecedented growth in town without our officials first building the infrastructure to support the massive buildup in town.

However, getting back to the main point of the letter, the Town has the monies to pay for the contract with the Fire Fighters. If the money was not available we would not have this crisis. Additionally, the town’s problem is that once this contract is resolved negotiations begin anew the next day.

We know that in mediation and arbitration neither side gets entirely what they want. The decision rendered may be down the middle or sightly tilted to the right or left.

I would suggest that the Council become imaginative. Several years ago we provided the manager with a bottom line figure for his senior management staff and allowed him the opportunity to distribute it according to how he saw fit. My recommendation would be to award the bottom line figure the department head and let him distribute the monies. If the concern is that no other town department received a raise in year one so be it. The Fire Chief, Mario Orangio can give $0 in year one and distribute the monies commensurate with the bottom line recommended by the Arbitrator.

If you read the instruction in the bullet points presented to our elected officials of the City, Known as the Town of Watertown, there is an arrogance that must be addressed. The Manager is appointed and works for the Watertown Town Council, not otherwise! When I read that he is forced against his will to enter into mediation and arbitration, I challenge and ask anyone that is currently serving or has served on the council or residents who have closely followed the Town Council Meetings over the years to come forth in a convincing manner in support of his statement.

It is blatantly not true. The Town Manager has always done exactly what he wants to do. And we have had crisis after crisis dating back to when I first returned from Colorado in 1989 and we had the “Save our Schools Movement” by parents, students and teachers marching on Town Hall. (Here again the money was available.)

As taxpayers, it is our responsibility to ensure that town business is conducted fairly and equitably. We elect people to represent us and not the interest of lawyers whose only wish is to further line their pockets as litigation is pursued. When we collectively crafted the Watertown Town Charter, we deliberately left out a provision for recall and chose two year terms so that the town would not have to undergo this rigorous procedure.

However, now is the time for action! It is time for all voters to attend the polls and cast their vote supporting councilors who will ensure that these young men and women, who are first responders daily saving lives within the community are treated fairly after going seven years without a contract.

In the Manager’s address, he always makes a statement regarding a recommended appropriation that it is fair to the department in question and also the taxpayers.

As this community is further divided and the Town Manager, who is calling the shots behind the scene, continues to be entrenched in his viewpoint; when do we the taxpayers and electorate decide enough is enough.

I can recall when we conducted a Charter Review and Attorney Hyland was representing Kopelman and Paige. She pointed out to us that our hands were not tied as previously thought on budgetary matters. On request of the School Committee, we could increase their budget by a 2/3 vote of the council finding monies within the budget as long as the council remained within Proposition 2 and 1/2.

Do you think the Town Manager wished us to possess this information?

Sincerely yours,

Clyde L. Younger
Former Town Council President and School Committee Member

 

Town Manager Michael Driscoll’s Bullet Points on the Fire Contract Negotiations:

  • The Watertown Town Council is the Town’s legislative body and the Town Manager serves as the Town’s executive branch. The Town Council is responsible for appropriating the funds that the Town Manager needs to operate the Town’s various departments and services.
  • The Town Council’s role in considering the appropriation request to fund the Fire arbitration award was the same role it plays when the Town Manager brings forward other appropriation requests such as voluntary agreements with unions, requests for capital purchases, the annual operating budget and other Town expenditures.
  • One of the Town Council’s primary functions is to decide whether it will appropriate the Town’s limited funds for a particular expenditure or budget item.  Regardless of whether a collective bargaining agreement has been reached voluntarily or through arbitration, the Town Council, at all times, has the statutory obligation and authority to determine whether the Town’s limited financial resources will be used to fund that particular agreement.
  • The submission of the unsettled Fire contract negotiations to the arbitration panel designated by the Joint Labor Management Committee (“JLMC”) was not a voluntary decision and was not done by agreement.
  • The Union filed a petition with the JLMC requesting mediation and when the mediation efforts did not produce an agreement, the JLMC required the parties to go to arbitration. Under the circumstances, it would have been a violation of G.L. c. 150E if the Town had refused to participate in the arbitration hearing.
  • At no time did the Town Manager or the Town Council ever agree to submit the contract dispute to arbitration, so any assertion that the Town Manager or the Town Council agreed to a process and then refused to abide by it is completely false. In fact, the Town Council was not even involved in the arbitration proceedings.
  • At the time that the Union requested to go to arbitration, the Town’s contract offer to the Union, had it been accepted, would have granted Watertown Firefighters monetary increases over a span of four (4) years (7/1/09 – 6/30/13) totaling approximately 6.5%. The increases for the other Town unions ranged from 5.0% to 6.5% over the same four (4) year period.
  • The Union rejected the Town’s offer and instead was seeking increases over that same period that totaled approximately 19.0%.
  • Had the Union accepted the Town’s pre-arbitration offer, Watertown Firefighters would have been the highest paid Firefighters as of the June 30, 2013 end date of the contract in comparison to Firefighters in Arlington, Belmont, Canton, Dedham, Melrose, Natick, Saugus, Stoneham, Waltham and Woburn.
  • Had the arbitration award been funded by the Town Council, it would have given Watertown Firefighters a total pay increase of approximately 9.5% over the four (4) year period which still would have been much higher than the 5.0% to 6.5% range of total increases that the other Town unions received for the same period.
  • Approximately two dozen communities have rejected arbitration awards in the past, including Northampton, Saugus and Holbrook in recent years alone.
  • The Boston Globe reports that the state Firefighters Union has been trying to legislatively change the arbitration process for more than a decade now in an effort to strip away the local legislative body’s discretion to decide how a municipality’s limited financial resources and tax dollars will be spent as it relates to collective bargaining and to instead, delegate that authority to arbitrators who are neither residents of the community nor the elected representatives of the community’s voters.
  • Since the rejection of the funding request of the arbitration award, the Town has made multiple offers to the Union for a new contract and they have all been rejected by the Union.
  • If the Union had accepted the Town’s most recent offer, it would have continued to place Watertown Firefighters among the highest paid Firefighters in relation to Arlington, Belmont, Canton, Dedham, Melrose, Natick, Saugus, Stoneham, Waltham and Woburn.
  • The Town Manager and the Town Council each have a responsibility to do what they believe is in the best interests of the community as a whole.
  • The Town Manager remains ready, willing and able to negotiate with the Union over a new collective bargaining agreement that is fair to the taxpayers of Watertown, the Town and the Union and its members alike, but it ultimately takes two parties to reach an agreement.

One thought on “LETTER: Former Council President Reacts to Firefighter Contract Dispute

  1. The Town Manager can make all the deceiving remarks he wants. Any Councilor or Citizen that would like to know the facts can Email me at morash.alan@gmail.com. I am a Lt., Sec/Treas. Of Unoion and bargaining team member Watertown Fire. IF you question my answers, you can question the manager.

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