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Firefighters union angry with mayor's vote on contract

New Hampshire Union Leader

September 05. 2018 11:34PM

MANCHESTER — The president of the city firefighters union said he is very disappointed with a vote by Mayor Joyce Craig to reject a contract proposal brought before the Board of Mayor and Aldermen Tuesday night.

“My vote to oppose the fire proposal was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my time as mayor,” said Craig. “Many of the firefighters are longtime friends of mine. They risk their lives to keep our residents safe. This was an extremely tough vote, but as mayor I have to look at the city as a whole.”

Jeff Duval, president of Manchester Professional Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 856, said Wednesday that members of the union were “extremely disappointed” the contract proposal did not pass Tuesday night, and with Craig’s tie-breaking vote.

“Our members feel they put a lot of energy and time into trying to get her elected and keep labor moving forward in the city,” said Duval. “We knocked on a lot of doors for her. We are disappointed it didn’t pass. That said, I don’t think we’re that far apart.”

Craig broke a 7-7 tie vote by the aldermen. The proposal included a 2 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA), merit and longevity steps retroactive to July 1, COLA increases equal to the city tax cap on July 1 in 2019 and 2020, and merit and longevity steps.

It was supported by aldermen Kevin Cavanaugh, Will Stewart, Chris Herbert, Dan O’Neil, Bill Shea, Bill Barry, and Normand Gamache. Opposing the deal were Tim Baines, Tony Sapienza, Elizabeth Moreau, Joe Kelly Levasseur, John Cataldo, Barbara Shaw, Keith Hirschmann and Craig.

“I voted against the fire contract because it is out of line with contracts negotiated with other city unions and non-affiliates that stay within the tax cap estimates, and taxpayers’ expectations,” said Levasseur. “I applaud Mayor Craig for refusing to break a 7-7 tie in favor of the firefighters’ unsustainable demands. The mayor’s vote showed she has a strong backbone and will go a long way in settling this and any other contracts still being negotiated.”

2016 negotiations

City firefighters and fire supervisors unions began negotiating new contracts with the city in June 2016.

Initially, discussions centered around a multi-year contract, but the parties agreed on a one-year contract extension that included a 1 percent salary increase and continued merit and longevity steps for fiscal year 2017. The unions declared an impasse, and a mediation session failed to produce a new agreement.

A fact-finding hearing was held in April 2016, with Attorney Gary Altman serving as fact-finder. In his report, Altman recommended both firefighter unions receive 3 percent salary increases on July 1, 2017, and July 1, 2018. The report also found members of both unions should be paid an additional $40 per week effective last July 1 and $50 per week on July 1, 2018 in hazard pay “in recognition of the increasingly hazardous working conditions” in Manchester — similar to a contract with the Manchester Police Patrolman’s Association the aldermen approved in September 2016.

Members of Local 856 and the Manchester Association of Fire Supervisors, IAFF Local 3820 voted to adopt the fact finders report.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen (BMA) voted in June 2017 to approve the report, 7-6, with Cavanaugh, Herbert, O’Neil, Barry, Gamache, and former aldermen Ron Ludwig and Tom Katsiantonis voting in favor. Opposed were Hirschmann, Sapienza, Levasseur, Shea, Shaw and former alderman Pat Long.

Former Mayor Ted Gatsas blocked the vote with a veto, saying the two-year price tag of the recommendations made in the report — totaling more than $4 million — would lead to future job losses.

Craig: Concessions needed

Craig said several contracts approved Tuesday night with AFSCME and Teamsters members provide city employees in those unions with raises, in part because “employees agreed to meaningful concessions that will provide savings.”

“With limited city funds, these savings allow us to afford a raise within the current budget, without taking away the opportunity to do the same for other employees, or putting the city in financial risk,” said Craig. “As mayor, it’s my obligation to ensure we treat all employees fairly, while at the same time working within the tax cap. Negotiations are a give-and-take.”

Craig said the three-year proposal brought forward by the firefighter unions includes salary increases in years two and three that exceed the amount allowed under the tax cap.

“This proposed contract also makes no meaningful concessions that result in savings,” said Craig. Enacting this contract could mean potential layoffs or station closures, and a lack of available resources for contracts for other city employees. This is not sustainable. The firefighters brought forth their best and final offer, and wanted a vote taken on it in public session.”

Duval said he remains hopeful a contract can be worked out before the next full board meeting in October, though Craig said a special meeting could be called later this month to discuss any potential new deal. Duval suggested aldermen could reinstate merit and longevity increases that members were due the last two years — without any retroactive pay — as an act of “good faith.”

“For instance, a member who has been stuck at step 9 the last two years would be put at step 11, where they should be,” said Duval.

He estimates about 100 firefighters are due merit and longevity step increases.

Craig said she remains hopeful future talks will produce “a fair and equitable contract for our firefighters” and city taxpayers.

“I am ready and willing to get around the table and work toward a compromise,” said Craig. “I want to move forward with this.”

Labor Public Safety Local and County Government Manchester

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