Watertown Firefighters Win Legal Victory

Watertown Firefighters Win Legal Victory

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It's a legal victory for the union that represents Watertown's city firefighters - the union can bring its dispute over staffing levels to arbitration.

Just a year ago, a state Supreme Court judge ruled the union couldn't go to arbitration. Now a state appellate court has overturned that ruling.

"The court erred in determining that the staffing provisions are not arbitrable on the ground that they are job security provisions subject to the public policy exception to arbitration," the appellate court ruled.

"This is something that didn't need to go this far. We could have been done with arbitration on the matter already if it wouldn't have been for the city's stall tactics," said Dan Daugherty, president of the firefighters union.

The city can appeal this decision, but the court of appeals, New York's highest court, does not have to take up the case.

Daugherty says, barring an appeal, arbitration could wrap up by the end of the year or early 2020.

We reached out to the city's lawyer in the fire dispute, Terry O'Neil, but have not heard back.

The firefighters have been working without a contract since July 2014. The current contract calls for 15 firefighters to be on duty, but the city says taxpayers can't afford that many.

Watertown leaders broke the firefighters' minimum staffing clause in November 2017, saying they needed to control overtime costs.

City leaders told the department it could not bring in firefighters on overtime if someone called in sick unless there were fewer than 13 firefighters on duty.

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