OGDENSBURG — The state Appellate Division in Albany heard arguments Wednesday from attorneys for the city of Ogdensburg and the union representing city firefighters during an appeal of a state Supreme Court ruling that halted the union’s ability to go to arbitration over alleged contract violations.
Earlier this year, the Ogdensburg Professional Firefighters Local 1799 had sought arbitration over what they said were violations in its six-year contract by city leadership when it laid off five firefighters on Jan. 1.
The union later withdrew five of its original seven grievance claims, with the two remaining claims referencing minimum shift staffing and how each of those shifts is structured, which they say violated its collective bargaining agreement that states the department cannot go below 24 firefighters.
In response, the city filed suit against the fire union on Feb. 14 in state Supreme Court seeking a permanent stay of arbitration, which it ultimately won following a March 19 ruling by Judge Mary M. Farley who granted the stay of arbitration. Shortly after the ruling, Nathaniel G. Lambright, the attorney representing the union, filed a notice of appeal from her decision and order.
The appeal was heard Wednesday in the state Appellate Division, Third Department, Albany. It is unknown when a ruling on the appeal will take place.
When reached for comment, Mr. Lambright said that he was confident that the appeal will favor the union.
“Based on my analysis of the law and questions that the court were interested in, I remain confident that the city breached the contract and I look forward to the court’s ruling,” Mr. Lambright said. “For far too long the city’s actions have jeopardized the safety of the firefighters and public, and I look forward to this being remedied in the near future.”
The city was represented by Paul Sweeney with Coughlin & Gerhart. City Manager and Fire Chief Stephen P. Jellie felt that Judge Farley’s ruling will be upheld.
“The City is confident that the ‘stay of arbitration’ put in place by Supreme Court Justice Mary Farley will be upheld by the Appellate Court,” Mr. Jellie wrote in a statement. “It is an unfortunate situation that the leadership of IAFF Local 1799 continues to assert that the needs of its 17 members outweigh the overall needs of the City.”
Mr. Jellie said that IAFF Local 1799 participated in an “irresponsible and unaffordable contract” following the 2019 election when Mayor Wayne L. Ashley and three councilors — David G. Price, Timothy P. Davis and Jennifer Stevenson — were defeated by what is now called the “majority” of council — Mayor Jeffrey M. Skelly and councilors John A. Rishe, Steven M. Fisher and William B. Dillabough.
“There is little question that those shameless efforts were executed just to ensure the incoming city council would not be allowed to make the change needed to save the City from financial ruin and would set the stage for a group of local government disruptors to attempt to impede every action taken by the new administration, including blocking officials from entering city hall, acts of vandalism and stalking,” Mr. Jellie wrote. “Mayor Skelly’s administration, led by majority City Council members John Rishe, Steven Fisher and William Dillabough refused to allow IAFF Local 1799 to control the fate of the City and to date, their challenging of the violation of public trust committed by ousted city councilors has succeeded.”
Mr. Jellie blamed Jason T. Bouchard, union president, and Ronald Bouchard, a 32-year retired veteran of the city fire department and former union secretary, for refusing to reach “a responsible and affordable deal for the City” and choosing “very lucrative perks and benefits package” instead of saving firefighter positions.