PROVIDENCE, RI — The city and the firefighters union have agreed to seek mediation in an effort to resolve their dispute over the city’s imposition of a new platoon system in the fire department, spokesmen for both sides and the mediator said Monday.
The mediator is Mark A. Pfeiffer, a retired Superior Court judge and the first Central Falls bankruptcy administrator. He declined to comment much beyond saying he had agreed to try to mediate the dispute and that he would be meeting with the two sides “very quickly.”
Pfeiffer has worked with the city and the union before, mediating a 2012 dispute between the city and the police and fire unions.
Spokesmen for the two sides were welcoming and circumspect. Evan England, spokesman for Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, said the mayor looked forward to working with Pfeiffer in seeking a resolution. Firefighters Local 799 President Paul Doughty also declined specific comment, saying he preferred to let the mediation process play out.
The two sides are in court over the city’s decision to change the department from a four-platoon to three-platoon system, a change Elorza has said that could save the city as much as $5 million a year in avoided overtime and callback costs.
The union has objected, and filed suit, claiming that many of the effects of the new system, particularly the lengthening of the average firefighter’s base work week from 42 to 56 hours, must be negotiated, and if negotiation fails, be submitted to arbitration, as per the firefighters’ contract with the city.
The firefighters have been working under the new system since Elorza imposed it on Aug. 2 after two months of negotiations failed to produce an agreement. When he implemented the new plan he also unilaterally increased firefighter pay by 8 percent. The firefighters have discounted that gesture, saying an 8-percent raise doesn’t make up for a 33-percent increase in their work hours.