Ogdensburg, fire officials spar over first responder status

A carved statue of a kneeling firefighter clutching an American flag is seen in front of the Ogdensburg Fire Department building on Ford Street. Christopher Lenney/Watertown Daily Times

OGDENSBURG — Roughly 30 minutes after the deadline Sunday, the Ogdensburg firefighters’ union announced its members unanimously rejected the city’s second and final contract offer.

On Saturday night, in an effort to nudge the union after a week of radio silence, City Manager and Fire Chief Stephen P. Jellie set a deadline for Sunday at 4 p.m. — the union could either accept the city’s confidential offer, or come back with a counteroffer “that will signify (the union’s) first attempt to work collectively.”

Mr. Jellie said Saturday night that the deadline was set because he and other city officials did not believe the union was taking the second contract offer “seriously,” adding “they are not sincerely interested in returning their personnel to work if it means losing the lucrative list of unsustainable perks they received in addition to the average cost of $131,000 per firefighter.”

The contract has now been officially withdrawn by the city.

In a letter to media Sunday afternoon, Jason T. Bouchard, president of Ogdensburg Professional Firefighters, Local 1799, confirmed the union unanimously rejected the city’s contract offer.

“Sadly, there is no longer any reason to believe that Union President Jason Bouchard, and his uncle Union Secretary Ronald Bouchard (Bouchard $ Bouchard) want anything other than to maintain the lucrative salaries, benefits and outrageous perks in their contract,” Mr. Jellie wrote in a letter to media Sunday night upon hearing the news, “even if it means the sacrifice of their members ... clearly Bouchard $ Bouchard are CONFUSED about their duty.”

Mr. Bouchard cited multiple examples for the union’s rationale behind rejecting the offer.

“The city has clearly violated our current contract. What is to say that any new deal would be honored?” Mr. Bouchard wrote.

He also said there was “very little difference” between the first and second contract offer.

Before the new year, Mr. Jellie sent the union its first contract offer, which was almost immediately rejected. The offer was said to remain confidential, but after Mr. Bouchard publicly shared the blistering rejection letter he received from his members, Mr. Jellie revealed all 16 items included in the contract offer. It’s been said that the contents of the second offer will remain confidential as well.

Mr. Bouchard also cited that the union already has a contract with the city, which runs through Dec. 31, 2025.

During the most recent contract negotiations, Mr. Bouchard said, the union opted to give up four positions and accepted a “more costly” health insurance. The contract went into effect Jan. 1, 2020.

“Since then, there has been an all-out attack on our department,” Mr. Bouchard wrote. “I, as Union President, have illustrated on the public record and through the media alike, that good faith is non-existent.”

Mr. Bouchard also said the city and fire union’s collective bargaining agreement guarantees the union’s concessions stop at 24 members, which the city has “already violated by cutting to 20,” and that the union is not currently in contract negotiations with the city.

The city and its fire union have been at odds for more than two months after the city introduced and passed its 2021 budget, which included the elimination of seven firefighter positions.

When the budget was passed Dec. 9, the city had 27 firefighters, but factoring in the seven job cuts, 20 firefighters were to remain, dipping below the 24-person minimum required by the city and union’s minimum staffing agreement.

Having a minimum of four firefighters working per shift instead of five, as well as the use of only one of the city’s fire engines, has caused Mr. Bouchard to call into question public safety.

“We hope to stay safe, so we can safely help those in need. And please don’t forget that five firefighters are out of a job because of Steve Jellie. How much damage will we allow this one man to inflict on our community?” Mr. Bouchard wrote in a letter to media Friday.

Mr. Jellie on Sunday night hit back once again.

“The false, and almost fictional rhetoric they continue to use to elicit fear for public safety within the community is shameful and will not work,” he wrote.

On Dec. 18, the union filed suit in state Supreme Court in St. Lawrence County against the city in order to temporarily halt city officials from reducing the size of the fire department staff. Ten days later, Judge Mary M. Farley denied the temporary restraining order.

Last month, five layoff notices were issued as, at the time, one fire captain had chosen to accept the city’s $25,000 retirement incentive, and a sixth firefighter remains out on leave for an unspecified injury. The layoffs took effect Jan. 1.

It was revealed during the case’s oral arguments Friday that two more firefighters have opted to retire while a third is under “disciplinary review.”

“Ogdensburg Firefighters Local 1799 is under attack by city administration,” Mr. Bouchard wrote Sunday night. “The lack of trust and existence of good faith in this relationship cannot be understated. Simply put, there is no way that the men I represent, especially those currently out of work, will trust this administration to keep their word given their course of action since taking office.”

“The City of Ogdensburg will continue to work decisively to save the city, while working equally as hard to revive the city,” Mr. Jellie wrote. “We sincerely hope IAFF Local 1799 will join that effort.”

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1

Assistant Managing Editor

In her role as assistant managing editor at the Watertown Daily Times, Sydney manages the photo department, social media accounts and NNY360.com.

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(1) comment

Eagle24

After reading the "$131,000 per firefighter. plus perks"... the rest is just blather... How that figure got reached is why a write in candidate won .... BTW median income for St Lawrence County... $44000. with no perks..

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