Judge to decide within week on city firefighters’ ‘sick call’ policy


Judge to decide within week on city firefighters’ ‘sick call’ policy

WATERTOWN — A state Supreme Court judge on Wednesday reserved decision regarding an injunction to block the city from a new policy that prohibits firefighters from being called into work when their colleagues call in sick. Last month, the City Council decided in executive session to establish a new policy that will not allow firefighters to be brought into work when others call in sick, a move that City Manager Sharon A. Addison admitted violates the union contract. The union promptly filed a grievance. Following oral arguments by attorneys, Judge James P. McClusky said he would make his written decision known within a week.The city and Watertown Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 191 are in the midst of a bitter three-year contract dispute. The new practice of “not backfilling” sick firefighters began on Nov. 12. The contract dispute’s main sticking point remains the issue involving the “minimum manning” stipulation that 15 firefighters must be on duty at all times. During the hearing, the union’s attorney, Nathaniel Lambright, contended it’s unsafe for both firefighters and the public if fewer than 15 firefighters are working.He also argued that the department has not received any training to work a shift without 15 firefighters on duty.“It’s a seat by the pants approach, putting firefighters in danger,” Mr. Lambright said.But Terry O’Neil, the attorney representing the city in the contract dispute, told the judge that the most recent contract did not contain any language about safety in the minimum manning clause.“It’s not ambiguous,” he said. “It says nothing about safety.” Mr. O’Neil believes that minimum manning requirement is about “job security,” not public safety.According to the petition, the city violated the collective bargaining unit by unilaterally reducing minimum staffing of the fire department from the required 15 bargaining unit members to 13. In further violation, the city improperly discontinued regular operation and staffing of the department’s rescue truck, an essential component of the department’s fire and rescue services, the union claims.So far, there have been five shifts in which firefighters called in sick, leaving the number of staff below 15, Mr. O’Neil said.Ms. Addison, who attended the hearing, said there has been a reduction in the number of times firefighters have called in sick since the new policy went into effect, but she did not know how much money it saved the city. The city took the measure to cut down on overtime associated with sick time. Last year, the cost of fire department sick time reached $178,000, and $650,000 in overtime expenses associated with firefighters calling in sick, according to city officials. To show their support, a contingent from the New York State Professional Fire Fighters Association in Albany, including President Samuel Fresina, attended the hearing.
Source: Watertown Daily Times Latest News
Judge to decide within week on city firefighters’ ‘sick call’ policy

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