WATERTOWN — When they go back to the bargaining table, the city and the firefighters’ union will grapple with the main sticking point that stalled the contract dispute for the past six years.
The two sides have agreed to meet to discuss minimum manning — the requirement that 15 firefighters must be on duty at all times — within 60 days of a new contract is ratified.
Councilwoman Lisa A. Ruggiero said the mediator recommended to pass the agreement or it would go back to arbitration in a year and the city would have just “a 5 percent chance of winning.”
“I really think it’s time for the city and the firefighters to bury the hatchet,” she said, adding that she thinks council will ratify it on Monday.
On Thursday night, the Watertown Professional Firefighters Association Local 191 passed a tentative agreement.
If the agreement is approved Monday night, the two sides must then go back to the bargaining table to start up negotiations once again for a new contract that goes beyond 2020.
The four-year tentative agreement, which covers 2016 through June 30 of this year, gives firefighters 2.5 percent raises for each year of the new contract. They must receive the retroactive pay for the past four years within 60 days after the accord has been ratified.
The agreement was reached after two sessions in June with a mediator and discussed by council members in a series of executive sessions.
Declining to comment specifically what was discussed behind the scenes, Mr. Mix said council members came to a consensus during the executive sessions on “what they want to do.”
It took six years to get to this point.
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.
The two sides avoided further arbitration on Nov. 23, with the hopes of ending their contentious legal battles.
The new contract includes several changes in health benefits. Under the agreement, firefighters will pay 14.5 percent for their premiums; pay more for prescription co-pays, from $10/$30/$40 to $10/$35/$60 for 30-day retail; deductibles would increase $200/$600 to $250/$750;and medical co-pays to $20/30.