Fire union expects tough contract talks after Watertown mayor’s comments

WWNY Fire union expects tough contract talks after Watertown mayor’s comments

WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) - Don't look for the road ahead to be less rocky between Watertown and the city fire department's union, especially after the mayor's comments Monday night.

With a unanimous "yes" vote Monday, Watertown City Council members are getting caught up on contract negotiations with the fire union.

Firefighters now have a contract up to June of this year, but current contract negotiations continue and the head of the fire union says it might not be pretty.

"With the statements the mayor made, we think it's going to be a rough negotiation, so we could be right back where we started," said Dan Daugherty, firefighter union president.

Daugherty refers to Smith's comments Monday night against the fire union. Smith was upset with the long-time issue of minimum manning. Contractually, Watertown's fire department has to have at least 15 workers per shift.

Smith argues that's not necessary because places like Saratoga and Elmira operate with fewer.

"When we compare cities our size, they're able to do it with a minimum manning that's much less than the city of Watertown. There hasn't been an explosion of injuries, of deaths or fires in those communities," Smith said.

"Other communities do work with less, but you have to look at those communities and say what did the firefighters get for it, and often, they're getting paid much more, and often, they're surrounded by other professional departments," said Daugherty.

Smith also said the fire department isn't sharing the burden of this year's tight finances.

"Every department took a hit except the fire department. The city just laid off four police officers, our recreation department has not been open, we don't have pools open, we don't have playgrounds, management took a pay cut, council took a pay cut," said Smith.

"The fire department has had cuts. They cut our deputy chief position, they cut our public educator position, they didn't fill an empty position. It's misinformation and you could call it a flat out lie on the part of the mayor. I think it's absolutely ridiculous that he tied the closing of the pools and the playgrounds to the fact that we have a fire department. It's absolute hypocracy that the city is trying to put a department of the city to blame for the current woes. It's his job as mayor to make the budget and work with the budget, it's not the fire department's," said Daugherty.

Smith also said many firefighters aren't impacted by the city's financial struggles.

"The reality is that 8/10 firefighters, 80 percent of our fire department, doesn't live in our city," he said.

"I disagree with those numbers. But he should also look at other departments. How many DPW workers, city hall workers, how many police officers, look, our city attorney doesn't even live inside the city," said Daugherty.

Smith got back to us about the union's response to his comments.

"I guess if the facts hurt them or bother them, that's unfortunate, but what I spoke on Monday was all factual. They can be tense if they want, but the point is I brought facts to the table," said Smith.

City leaders and the union will meet again within 60 days to discuss minimum staffing. The union says while they’re at it, they’d like to discuss their next contract too.

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