PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Dozens of city firefighters didn't turn
up for work, prompting Mayor David Cicilline to obtain a
restraining order in Superior Court Wednesday requiring the
firefighters to return to work.
The order directs union leaders to advise members to comply with
the department's collective bargaining agreement and state law,
Cicilline said in a statement.
Sixty-three firefighters called in sick Wednesday, costing the
department $19,000 in overtime for replacements, Karen Southern, a
Cicilline spokeswoman, told The Providence Journal. On Tuesday, 32
firefighters called in sick Tuesday, costing the department $12,000
in overtime.
Providence Firefighters Union President David Peters said that
the union leadership didn't encourage any firefighters to call in
sick and that it discouraged any abuse of sick leave.
"We have found no instance of any firefighter who abused his
sick leave," he added, pointing out that many used personal days,
which may be used at the discretion of the firefighters.
Cicilline said he went to court because the "work stoppage and
slowdown" was in violation of their contract and state law.
Superior Court Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson granted the
restraining order after finding the union engaged in an illegal job
action, according to the mayor's office.
It was unclear why so many didn't come to work. Firefighters
have been without a contract since June 30, 2001, but they are
still bound by the provisions of the old contract. State law
prohibits fire department employees from striking and any other
type of work stoppage or slowdown, the Journal reported.
"I am outraged the firefighters decided to compromise the
safety of their fellow firefighters and potentially the residents
of this city by staging this irresponsible work stoppage,"
Cicilline said. "The union leadership had available other
mechanisms to voice their concerns. Instead they chose to
jeopardize the welfare of the people of Providence and that is
unacceptable."
Cicilline said the city maintained minimum mandatory staffing
levels of about 95 firefighters per shift by ordering firefighters
already on the clock to work overtime.
Fewer than 10 firefighters per shift typically call in sick,
Southern said.
But Peters said: "At no time were the citizens, visitors or the
firefighters of the city of Providence in any danger."
The firefighters have been negotiating for a new contract.
Cicilline has been seeking concessions from their union on health
care costs.
Peters said that union and city had scheduled several contract
negotiation sessions, including one on Thursday.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)