PLATTSBURGH, NY — Following months of testimony and legal wrangling, the Plattsburgh Professional Firefighter’s Union (PPFU) has been awarded $740,109 in back pay and retroactive wage increases by an arbitration panel.
The State of New York Public Employment Relations Board designated the panel to weigh arguments from the PPFU and city representatives to deliver a compromise solution, which was shot down by city officials in May.
The panel has now directed the city to payout a $740,109 award, including an additional $250,000 in health insurance-related funds, to the PPFU.
PPFU Vice President Terry Feazelle called the result “very fair,” though the city could have approved “a better deal” earlier in the year, he said.
The panel earlier this year offered a compromise that would have awarded the PPFU approximately $640,000 per year for the next five years, covering backpay and raises not just for 2012-13, but from 2012 through December of this year. In return, the firefighters would have moved from their current health insurance to a more cost-effective preferred provider organization plan.
That was the offered declined by the Plattsburgh Common Council.
Since their last contract expired, the union has entered into arbitration with the city three times — once in 2012 to secure wages for 2008-2009, in 2014 for 2009-2011, and again this year for wages from 2012-2013.
The PPFU has been without a contract with the city since 2007, though they continue to work under the Taylor Law, legislation that allows for the union to work under the 10 year old contract while negotiations continue.
“Between (the $740,109 award), which should have been anticipated, at least as a contingency, in the council’s budget deliberations last year, the city must now make immediate cuts,” said Plattsburgh Mayor Colin Read.
The city is currently facing a litany of financial woes, including a mounting health care liability, depleted fund balance and near-stagnant revenue.
“The council did not begin with a sufficient reserve fund balance to cover these anticipated items,” Read said. “Because the city receives the bulk of its revenues in the first half of the fiscal year, we have enough cash for now. However, now is the time to make the mid-year cuts so we can make it to the end of the year.”
Now that this most recent arbitration is closed, contract negotiations can start again:
“I am always hopeful that the city and the firefighter’s union can sit down from the perspective of a shared concern for sustainable city finances, and figure out together how we can take care of firefighters and firefighting in a way that is affordable for the city,” said Read.
“I agree 100 percent,” said Feazelle. “The city is not that large and has limited funds … but the city has to understand that our workforce is not paid adequately for the work that we do.”