A proposed bargaining agreement that would have provided significant pay raises to city firefighters was rejected by the Nashua Board of Aldermen on Tuesday.
The union contract was denied with a vote of 7-6, meaning negotiations will resume with the firefighters union, Local 789.
“I would love to vote in favor of this contract, but at some point we have to start to exercise our fiscal restraint,” Alderwoman Elizabeth Lu said.
Firefighters, who have been working without a contract for a year, were seeking 3.5 percent pay raises for each of the four years of the contract. However, Mayor Jim Donchess said that the actual cost increases totaled about 17 percent.
“Which, in my opinion, under these circumstances, we cannot afford,” said Donchess.
The retroactive agreement would have run from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2023, and would have included salary increases for 170 union members; the total base pay throughout the four years would have gone from $11.4 million to nearly $13.4 million.
“I don’t think what they are asking for is too much, and I don’t think what we are going to have to pay them in the future is going to be detrimental to our budget,” Alderman Ben Clemons said. “This is not too expensive. We will be able to manage this.”
The pay increases are necessary to get the firefighters’ wage levels to where they should be, according to Clemons.
Chief Brian Rhodes of Nashua Fire Rescue said his firefighters have worked incredibly hard throughout the last four years during the city’s opioid crisis. When others didn’t know how to begin addressing the problem, he said Nashua firefighters stepped up and made a difference.
“All we are asking for is to take a serious look at this … I know this is a very tough decision, but in the end, without our employees, we have nothing,” Rhodes told aldermen.
Alderwoman Jan Schmidt agreed, describing the contract as fair, necessary and timely.
Others did not agree.
“I came to the conclusion that our firefighters are being paid fairly,” said Alderman Ernest Jette, who compared the salary of Nashua firefighters with those in Manchester, Portsmouth and select cities in Massachusetts.
“I think we have to navigate very carefully here,” said Alderman Tom Lopez, who added he is concerned about the tax rate and how it could affect local residents already struggling to balance their budgets.
After rejecting the proposed bargaining agreement, aldermen voted to indefinitely postpone the proposal, meaning firefighters will have an opportunity to renegotiate for a newly proposed contract.