City firefighters union files protest

Watertown Fire Department on South Massey Street. Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — In the latest volley in their years-long legal battle, the firefighters’ union filed a grievance against the city involving the city’s decision to take the heavy rescue truck off the road.

City Manager Kenneth A. Mix received the grievance late Tuesday in which it is claimed that the city violated its contract with the Watertown Professional Firefighters’ Association, Local 191.

Mr. Mix said the grievance has to do with the city not being up to date with a few standard operating procedures after the city took the rescue truck out of service for good last month.

“The fire chief is remedying that,” Mr. Mix said.

The union also specifies that one of the firefighters should be paid a captain’s wages, he said.

In recent weeks, the rescue truck became the subject of a debate after it was permanently pulled off the road.

Union president Daniel Daugherty acknowledged that the grievance has nothing to do with the rescue truck, but did not want to divulge the union’s legal strategy. But he said that the city has the legal right to remove the vehicle from going on emergency medical calls.

The city has five business days to respond to the grievance. If the two sides cannot resolve the issue, it will be submitted to the state’s Public Employee Relations Board and then go on to arbitration.

The city and union are also headed to mediation for a new contract. Bill Conley, who worked in the same capacity last time, will be the mediator in the case. No date has been set yet.

In December, the union and the city jointly agreed to file for an impasse and move toward mediation after meeting just three times at the negotiating table.

Minimum manning, which requires 15 firefighters are on duty at all times, remains the sticking point.

In August, the city and the bargaining unit agreed on a new four-year agreement that covers 2016 through June 30 of this year, and gives firefighters 2.5% raises for each year of the new contract.

A new agreement would cover from July 1 of this year and beyond.

It took six years to approve that contract as both sides fought back and forth over battles in and out of court.

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 could be on the way to arbitration again if mediation doesn’t work.

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