Watertown Will Break Contract With Firefighters UnionPosted: Updated:
Watertown city leaders will break their contract with the firefighters union in an effort to reduce overtime costs. It's a directive from Watertown City Manager Sharon Addison and the Watertown City Council.
Starting this weekend, if a Watertown firefighter calls in sick for the day, the fire department will not be allowed to call in another worker on overtime.
Mayor Joe Butler says it's an effort to get OT costs under control.
In an op-ed to the Watertown Daily Times, Butler wrote that OT costs associated with filling in for sick firefighters has been increasing and currently, costs the city $178,000. Last fiscal year, the fire department racked up more than $650,000 in overtime.
This new sick time rule breaks the city's contract with the firefighter's union.
Forbidding firefighters to fill in for their sick co-workers will bring the department below what's called "minimum staffing."
The city and fire department had agreed that no fewer than 15 firefighters would work a shift. This new directive lowers that number to 13, depending on whether any workers are sick on any given day.
Mayor Butler said council had no other mechanism to solve issues with overtime, saying leaders at at their wit's end.
The issue of minimum staffing has been one of the major sticking points, stalling new contract negotiations between Watertown and the union.
"This is nothing short of a vindictive action from a failed administration," said Dan Daugherty, president of the firefighters union.
He says it's just going to lead to more legal battles and cost the city thousands of dollars more.
"And basically put the safety of the citizens and firefighters on the line for nothing," he said.
Daugherty says if the city won't allow them to fill in for sick firefighters, staffing will greatly suffer.
He says, with a shorter staff, the department will have to take its heavy rescue truck off the road, unless it's absolutely needed.
While the sick time rule is a directive from city council as a whole, not all lawmakers are behind it.
Council member Cody Horbacz tells 7 News he's completely against violating the contract.
We reached out to council members Teresa Macaluso and Steve Jennings, but haven't heard anything back.
Lisa Ruggiero and Ryan Henry-Wilkinson, who were elected Tuesday to replace Jennings and Macaluso on the council, both tell 7 News they are against the city's decision.
"The fact is, if the current contract says the minimum manning is 15, then why is the city violating that? I just find it troubling," said Ruggiero.
We reached out to City Manager Sharon Addison for comment Wednesday evening but we haven't heard back.
While it's believed that this sick time rule will lead to a new legal fight about minimum staffing, Mayor Butler says he thinks it's a fight the city will win. He thinks the contract's staffing clause is legally unenforceable.