Court Sides With Firefighters In Minimum Staffing Case

LOCKPORT, NY – A ruling made by Judge Frank Caruso in New York State Supreme Court last week says the Lockport Professional Firefighters Association can take to arbitration the cuts made in its minimum staffing levels.

In June, the City of Lockport filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the firefighter union’s bid to reverse reductions in minimum staffing and the ambulance service, which officials said were made in order to save the city from running out of money by August.

The suit was a request by the city for a stay of arbitration. Officials were hoping to stave off an attempt by the LPFA to stop the cuts instituted by the Fire Board.

In April, the Fire Board voted to cut staffing levels down from nine to seven firefighters per shift and to cut the number of firefighters on an ambulance from three to two. The board also ordered one of the two city ambulances to be taken out of service. This was blocked by court order, but the order was later lifted.

The city, however, kept staffing levels at nine during the summer, until Twin City Ambulance took over the city’s ambulance service duties in September. At that time, the staffing level dropped to six per shift.

In the court ruling, Caruso rejected the city’s request to deny arbitration with the LPFA over the staffing levels, essentially saying in his decision the LFD’s level of employment and the level of staffing were two different things.

Caruso said the minimum staffing level was meant to maintain firefighter safety, which has no impact on the total number of firefighters employed.

The city argued it could cut manning levels to save on personnel costs, because of Lockport’s fiscal crisis. But the judge agreed with the firefighter union in his ruling, saying the city can base its decision on how many firefighters are employed because of finances, but not how many are working on a shift.

Kevin Watier, LPFA secretary/treasurer, said the ruling will allow the union to pursue arbitration on the matter.

“The Lockport Professional Firefighters hope that this decision will encourage the current administration to come to the bargaining table and negotiate a settlement or at the very least proceed to arbitration as quickly as possible to obtain a final decision,” he said. “This will save the taxpayers both time and money.”

Deputy Corporation Counsel David Blackley said this ruling does not force the city into arbitration, it means they now have to “weigh their options.”

Blackley said the city has many steps it could take, including appealing the ruling in Appellate Court in Rochester. That could either come back in the city’s favor or again in the favor of the LPFA, where another appeal could then take place by either side.

The city could also agree to arbitration, which Blackley said he “doubts they would do that.”

“We have a long, long way to go,” Blackley said. “We at the city feel our position is solid and we will ultimately prevail.”

Blackley said the city has approximately 30 days to make a decision on their next step and a decision is probable by January.

From The Lockport Union-Sun & Journal