O’burg firefighters lose court challenge

O’burg firefighters lose court challenge
Ogdensburg Fire Department (Source: WWNY)

OGDENSBURG, N.Y. (WWNY) - The Ogdensburg firefighters union lost a court challenge Friday over how many firefighters the city must have.

The union tried to take the city to arbitration, saying the city planned to operate with as few as three firefighters per shift. The union argued its contract with the city requires at least five unionized firefighters on duty at all times, and wanted an arbitrator to settle the issue.

State Supreme Court Justice Mary Farley, in a ruling Friday, sided with the city and against the firefighters.

Farley decided the union’s claim there must be five firefighters on duty at all times was not a matter of public safety, but rather, job security for the union.

“Neither the word “safety” nor language referencing worker or community safety appears anywhere” in the union’s agreement with the city, the judge wrote.

And even though “job security” can be a reason for arbitration, the judge decided in this case the contract between the city and the firefighters union “does not explicitly protect jobs.”

The city now has 21 firefighters.

In an emailed statement, city manager Stephen Jellie said “We sincerely hope this decision from the court ends the major differences between city management and the firefighters union so we can act collectively in the best interest of the city.”

“We now look forward to continuing with the reorganization and restructuring of the Ogdensburg Fire Department.”

The union’s lawyer, Nathaniel Lambright, said in an emailed statement “We respect the court’s decision, but we will be appealing.”

City officials have said they have to cut the fire department because the city faces a financial crisis, and simply can’t raise taxes.

Arbitration is a means of settling disputes between unions and management in which each side submits their argument to an arbitrator - a neutral expert agreed to by both sides - who then issues a decision which is binding on both sides.

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