Fire mediator pushes for remote talks in city dispute

Watertown Fire Department on South Massey Street. Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — The city and the firefighters’ union will meet on June 11 with a mediator during a video conference to talk about the next step in their labor negotiations.

William Conley, director of conciliation with the Public Employment Relation Board in Albany, notified the city and the Watertown Professional Firefighters Association Local 191 that the initial meeting must be through a video conference because he’s having surgery and cannot do it in person.

However, a second meeting will be scheduled later in June that will be a face-to-face session, union president Daniel Daugherty said.

“Given the circumstances, we’re going to do it by video,” he said, adding that the in-person date hasn’t been set yet.

The city was reluctant to meet through a video conference because city officials have been busy working on the proposed budget during a financial crisis caused by the novel coronavirus.

City Manager Kenneth A. Mix said it will be then up to Mr. Conley to determine whether further mediation would be beneficial to the labor talks.

After meeting just one time in February, the city and the firefighters’ union both filed an impasse in their labor negotiations.

On Feb. 28, the city and the union met for their first negotiations in four years with both sides not budging on the same sticking point — minimum manning. The session produced no results, so both sides declared an impasse.

The city continues to insist that the stipulation that 15 firefighters be on duty at the same time remained on the negotiating table. The union will not talk about minimum manning.

That issue was the sticking point that stalled talks during their six-year labor dispute. Legal arguments over arbitration regarding the minimum manning issue made it all the way to the state’s highest court, with the union winning.

The two sides avoided further arbitration on Nov. 23, seemingly ending their contentious legal battles.

In January, the election brought Mayor Jeffrey M. Smith and new Councilman Jesse Roshia into office. The mayor has been a longtime critic of the union and minimum manning.

The relationship between the city and the union has become more testy after the mayor recently proposed cutting down on the number of fire department medical calls.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1

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