Arbitrator’s Ruling A ‘Mixed Bag’ For City, Fire Union In Dispute Over Shelved Rescue Truck

WATERTOWN — The city and the firefighters’ union can both take away something positive from an arbitrator’s ruling involving out-of-title captains’ pay for the now-defunct rescue truck.

Arbitrator Robert Rabin ruled earlier this week that the city did not violate its collective bargaining agreement by eliminating the heavy rescue truck when the City Council decided in January to take it off the road.

That means the city doesn’t have to purchase a new rescue truck and put it back on the road.

In the complicated ruling, Mr. Rabin also determined the city must pay firefighters when they perform captains’ duties while going out on medical emergency calls. The city also must issue back pay for the times they performed captains’ duties during those calls, City Manager Kenneth A. Mix said.

“It’s sort of a mixed bag for both sides,” Mr. Mix said. “We would have liked to (get) the decision in full, but that didn’t happen.”

The arbitrator’s 33-page ruling is just the latest volley in the ongoing battle between the city and the Watertown Professional Firefighters Association Local 191 that has gone on for years.

The two sides could be going to arbitration to resolve its ongoing contract dispute — once again.

Mr. Mix said the city and the union might meet once more with mediator Bill Conley to resolve the contract dispute. He’s trying to work out a date for later this month after the two sides met three times with Mr. Conley. The most recent session occurred May 25.

“I think it’s headed to arbitration,” union president Daniel Daugherty said, thinking that would happen by the end of the year.

Last year, the city and the bargaining unit agreed on a four-year package that covers 2016 through June 30, 2020, and gave firefighters 2.5% raises for each year of the new contract.

A new agreement would cover July 1 of last year and beyond.

It took six years to approve that contract as both sides fought back and forth during battles in and out of court.

As for the heavy rescue truck ruling, Mr. Conley instructed the city and the union to work together on figuring out when firefighters should be paid for captains’ duties.

Acting captains won’t get paid until they actually get out of a fire department apparatus and begin working in that capacity on a call, Mr. Mix said.

The city and the union will have to figure out a procedure to determine those parameters, he said.

“There’s lots of gray areas,” Mr. Mix said, “at what point do firefighters start doing captains’ duties?”

Firefighters who have worked as acting captains also will receive back pay for doing so. But again, neither side knows how much money that will be.

Mr. Daugherty said the union will have to look back at every shift since the rescue truck was taken off the road to figure out that amount.

“It’s very confusing and we haven’t had the time to discuss the ruling,” he said.

The union filed a grievance after the rescue truck was taken off the road permanently in what was seen by council as a duplication of services.

The long-standing contract dispute has created animosity on both sides.

Minimum staffing — having 15 firefighters on duty at all times — is again the main sticking point.

The city has insisted the union has to give up the minimum staffing stipulation, contending it should determine staffing issues. The union has argued minimum staffing is a safety issue for firefighters and the public.

Legal arguments over arbitration regarding the minimum staffing issue made it all the way to the state’s highest court, with the union winning.


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