WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - Watertown's firefighters union wants the city to pay fines over a directive to operate below minimum staffing levels.
The city and the union will go to arbitration in November.
This comes after New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, denied the city’s request to hear the case.
A minimum manning clause in the union’s contract says 15 firefighters have to be on duty at one time. In late 2017, the city knowingly violated that clause when it ordered the department to operate with fewer than 15 members on duty when a firefighter called in sick.
The union wants the city fined for the times it violated that clause.
Fire Union President Dan Daugherty expects a decision by next spring.
Meanwhile, the firefighters have been working without a contract since 2014 and now they’re starting to make some progress. Through arbitration, the city and the fire union have negotiated a contract for years 2014-2016. And it includes, among other things, a retroactive raise for firefighters.
After a couple days of hearings last fall, “interest arbitration” between the city and the union on a contract for years 2014-2016 has been decided.
Daugherty says he received the results from the union’s lawyer on Monday. He says it’s favorable for the union.
“We received wages that were better than what the city was proposing, health insurance increase better than what the city was proposing. The manning clause again was solidified in that interest arbitration. Increases in health insurance buyout for our members. We received pretty much the bulk of the award,” he said.
Daugherty says under the ruling, firefighters working in 2014-2016 will receive a raise - a 1.5 percent salary increase for 2014-2015 and a 2.5 percent increase for 2015-2016, which he says is on par with the police department.
He says health insurance costs increased from 12 to 14 percent, on par with what other city departments pay.
Daugherty also says health care insurance buyouts increased and a sick leave incentive policy was put in place.
“If a member does not use a single day of sick day throughout the year, they receive $1,000. If they use one day, they receive $500. If they use 2 days, $250.”
Daugherty says the fire union did lose its work in the code enforcement office. In the past, it had 2 members assigned there.
Overall, Daugherty says the fire union ended up with the contract it wanted all along. He says this long, drawn-out fight has been a waste of time and money.
“The city essentially spent a million dollars for a contract that we could have negotiated within a couple weeks back in 2014,” he said.
Daugherty says the city could challenge the ruling. He says the city’s attorney, Terry O’Neil, wrote a 36-page dissent of the award, calling it an illegal award.
We reached out to the city for comment, but both City Manager Rick Finn and Mayor Joe Butler say they haven’t received the decision yet.