City, fire union set talks on minimum manning

City crews arrive at the scene of a fire on Flower Avenue East in Watertown earlier this year. Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — The city and the firefighters’ union will sit down next week and talk about the main sticking point that stalled their contract dispute for six years.

The city will meet Sept. 24 with representatives of the Watertown Professional Firefighters Association Local 191 to discuss minimum manning, the requirement that 15 firefighters must be on duty at all times.

Getting together to talk about minimum manning was stipulated in the four-year agreement that the two sides approved last month that covers from 2016 to June 30 of this year.

According to that accord, the two sides had 60 days to talk about minimum manning one more time before they go back to the negotiating table to iron out a new pact.

During the Sept. 24 meeting, the two sides will reiterate their positions on the minimum manning issue that they’ve been fighting over for years, union president Daniel Daugherty said.

“I do not see any change coming from it,” he said Monday.

During the contract dispute, the city tried to get rid of the stipulation, contending the city should decide staffing issues. The union has argued that minimum manning is a safety issue for firefighters and the public.

“We’ll see what they have to say,” Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith said.

Legal arguments over arbitration regarding the minimum manning issue made it all the way to the state’s highest court, with the union winning. Minimum manning and its related issues also meandered through several other court proceedings throughout the years.

After they meet on Sept. 24, the city and labor union have a negotiating session scheduled for Oct. 29 to talk about the new contract.

The union will be represented by Mr. Daugherty, union officers Mark Jones, Michael Kellogg and Andrew Naklick and trustees Troy Chismore, Matt Carpenter and Chris St. Joseph.

The city’s negotiating team consists of City Manager Kenneth A. Mix, City Attorney Robert J. Slye and Human Resources Director Matthew Roy. Mayor Smith said he might replace Councilman Jesse Roshia.

According to the agreement approved last month, the four-year pact gives firefighters 2.5 percent raises for each year of the new contract. They’re receiving retroactive pay for the past four years.

While talks are about to begin on a new contract, the last of the court wrangling is now occurring in the Appellate Division, Fourth Department, in Rochester. Oral arguments were heard Monday regarding assigning fire captains to work out-of-title duties as battalion chiefs. It will probably be months before the appellate division rules on the issue.

Over the years, the city paid about $900,000 in legal bills to fight the minimum manning issue, citing that it could not afford the costs and it should determine the fire department’s staffing levels.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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