Union, city to appeal state court’s decision

The Watertown fire department responds to a house fire at the corner of State and Rutland streets. Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — The legal wrangling between the firefighters’ union and the city is continuing with both sides planning to appeal a recent state Supreme Court decision.

In August, State Supreme Court Judge James P. McClusky gave partial victories to both the city and the Watertown Professional Firefighters Association Local 191 regarding the city assigning firefighters and a captain to work out of title duties.

During the past two weeks, the city and the union filed notice of appeals with the Appellate Division, Fourth Department in Rochester.

Both sides are appealing because “the union was not successful and city was not successful” when they went before Judge McClusky, City Manager Rick Finn said.

A court date has not been set for oral arguments before the appellate division. The City Council discussed the issue in executive session on Monday night.

The litigation is the most recent volley in the more than five-year contract dispute between the city and the labor union.

In the Aug. 1 decision, the union lost its argument regarding captains doing the work of the municipal training officer. In 2018, the city eliminated a fifth battalion chief that was responsible for those duties.

But Judge McClusky concluded that the city can call for a captain to fill the MTO position because the city eliminated the battalion chief position, so “there is no out of title work.”

The union plans to appeal that part of the decision to the court in Rochester.

The other portion of Judge McClusky’s decision pertained to out of title work for firefighters who fill the duties of a captain on the rescue truck.

Judge McClusky agreed with the previous decisions by two arbiters who ruled that firefighters occupying “the right-hand seat” should be paid a captain’s salary and the city should not rely on the practice of scheduling firefighters temporarily as captains.

The city intends to appeal that part of the firefighters’ petition, which was filed this spring.

Only one more aspect of the contract stalemate remains. The minimum manning clause — whether 15 firefighters should be at work at all times — has been the main sticking point during the contract stalemate.

An arbitrator will hear that case on Nov. 19.

Union president Daniel Daugherty said he expects the arbitrator to award the union between $100,000 and $122,000 in back pay.

“He can’t subcontract from what’s in the contract and he can’t add to the contract,” Mr. Daugherty said, noting that the arbiter can only determine the amount owed to firefighters.

Last year, the city took the minimum manning stance to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, and lost.

The minimum manning case went through the courts, starting with a decision in the city’s favor when Judge McClusky determined in January 2018 that the city can block arbitration in the contract dispute.

The union appealed and the state Appellate Division, Fourth Department, Rochester, reversed that decision.

The city and the union still have to negotiate contracts for 2016 and the years beyond.

City firefighters already received nearly $1 million in back pay connected to the five-year contract dispute with the city.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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