WOONSOCKET – Representatives of the fire department union and the city administration have more time to complete work on a new contract following votes by the City Council Thursday night.
Four members of the council participating in a brief special session voted unanimously to approve agreements extending provisions of the existing contract with Local 732 of the International Association of Fire Fighters so that ongoing talks between the two sides can continue. Attending were City Council President John F. Ward, and Council members Suzanne Vadenais, Daniel Gendron, and Roger Jalette.
Council members approved two separate resolutions related to the time extensions, which members of the union and Mayor Leo T. Fontaine said would allow the talks to continue for another 30 days.
One of the resolutions states that any member of the fire department who chooses to retire between June 30, 2011, and July 31, 2011, would do so under the “terms and conditions set forth in the July 01, 2008 to June 30, 2011, collective bargaining agreement.”
The second resolution approved by the Council delays implementation of a new work schedule for the fire department by one month. The change of schedule, a cost-savings measure obtained by Fontaine through court action, was to take effect July 1 but will now be implemented on August 1 if no other cost-savings agreement comes out of the talks with the union.
Fire Department Lt. Christopher Oakland, president of Local 732, said the Council action will provide the sides with a time extension to continue their ongoing contract work.
“Basically, we are still trying to negotiate a contract and the talks are going well,” Oakland said. “This will keep the status quo for another month.”
Local 732’s existing three-year contract with the city expired at midnight on June 30 and will now remain in effect for another 30 days, according to Oakland.
The city has won a declaratory judgment in Superior Court upholding its plan to convert the department’s 42-hour-a-week, four-platoon work schedule to a 56-hour-a-week, three-platoon work schedule, but has not yet implemented that change.
The revised schedule is intended to save the city overtime costs but has been opposed by the union for the extended work day and weekly hours it would require.
The talks under way between the sides are expected to provide alternative savings that would eliminate the need for the three platoon schedule and potentially reactivate the department’s second ladder truck that was put on hiatus as another savings measure.
Fontaine said Thursday that the Council’s action would give the sides more time to work on the pending settlement.
“We are trying to finish up negotiations and while we may not need the full 30 days this will provide us with more time,” Fontaine said. “Things have been progressing and I hated to see a deadline come up and prevent us from reaching an agreement.”
Prior to the panel’s vote, Gendron said he was “anxious to see this (the contract) resolved this way rather than getting into an arbitration hearing.” Both sides have been working on a settlement, he said, adding that those discussions need to continue.
City Councilwoman Vadenais said she wanted to thank both Fontaine’s administration and the fire department’s union representatives for their work on the contract.
Fire department members have caught some criticism in public discussions of the city’s costs, she noted, but should be credited for the work they do.
“You people really do a hard job out there and should be commended for what you do,” she said.
Ward said he hopes the work already done on the contract will allow the Council to consider ratification of a settlement at its July 18 meeting. Fontaine said he hopes to be able to bring about a settlement package by that date.