Court orders mayor to fund firefighter contract
By Sean Corcoran
SALEM - A Superior Court judge ordered Mayor Stanley Usovicz to fully fund the city's Fire Department at 95 firefighters yesterday, effectively reinstating the jobs of nine men who were laid off at 12:01 a.m. yesterday.
"The mayor is required to submit to the City Council a request for appropriation sufficient to fund Article 30 of the collective bargaining agreement," wrote Judge Bonnie MacLeod in her decision. "Further, the mayor and his agents are ordered to refrain from effectuating any layoffs."
The order was the latest development in a long-running dispute between the mayor and the firefighters' union.
About a year ago, Usovicz proposed cutting the jobs of 14 firefighters, which would have reduced the ranks to 70. The International Firefighters Local 172 fought the cuts in Salem Superior Court, where a judge ordered the mayor to fund the 95 firefighters' positions, as is required in the union contract.
This year, when Usovicz submitted his 2005 budget to the City Council in May, he again tried to cut the department to 70 firefighters, and the union again sought help from the court.
Yesterday, Usovicz said he will follow the judge's order to fund the 95 firefighters. But, unlike last year, he will appeal it.
"I will comply with the order and respectfully disagree with it," he said. "We will begin the process of appeal. And we will sit down during the course of the next few days and map out a strategy."
MacLeod's order came just one day after the City Council reluctantly approved the $93 million budget the mayor submitted in late May. The spending plan included the nine layoffs, bringing the number of firefighters down to 70. The department is budgeted for a staff of 84, but the mayor did not replace five firefighters who retired during the past year.
When approving the budget Wednesday night, councilors bemoaned the fact MacLeod had not ruled before the end of the fiscal year. Usovicz will now need to send a request to the City Council to fully fund the union contract.
It was not clear yesterday where the mayor would find money in the budget to pay for the additional men. But he said he will not take any action that requires a Proposition 2 1/2 override.
"I am not going to allow that to take place," he said.
$1 million more
Councilor-at-large Kevin Harvey, the chairman of the council's Administration and Finance Committee, estimated funding all 95 positions would cost the city about $1 million. If the council does the same thing as last year and reduces the number to 84 - which is within its power - it would cost an additional $600,000, he said.
"We've passed the budget, now we have to come back in and deal with what I assume is a significant fiscal shortfall," Harvey said. "Obviously I am very interested in seeing what is submitted to us by the mayor to satisfy this budget situation."
Harvey asked the mayor come to a City Council meeting and discuss how the city should proceed. But the mayor rarely sits in on council meetings. When told of Harvey's request, Usovicz extended his own invitation to have councilors come to his office.
"I gladly ask the council to come in here, and I will tell them precisely what my position is," he said. "I will let them know that my number is 70. And the only way that number goes up is if the union surrenders overtime."
Usovicz called the amount of overtime the city spends on the Fire Department "the key ingredient in all of this."
The average firefighter is guaranteed about $6,000 each year in overtime, as part of the union contract, according to Fire Chief David Cody. In the 2005 budget, $750,000 is set aside for firefighter overtime costs - enough for the full 95 positions in the contract, said budget director Bruce Guy. By comparison, the Police Department, which has about 90 officers and does not have mandatory overtime in its contract, was budgeted for $435,000 in overtime.
Overtime costs aside, Usovicz said if the council does not reduce the Fire Department's 95 positions to something "reasonable and affordable to taxpayers," the city will have to look at other departments and other areas to cut.
Yesterday, union President John O'Leary had the easy job of calling the laid-off firefighters and telling them they can come back to work.
"I notified them as soon as we got the decision, to kind of ease the tension," he said. "The guys were laid off this morning, and they were worried about losing their houses. They didn't know where the income was going to come from."
While Usovicz must find funding for 95 firefighters, O'Leary said the union will work with the council to see what the city can afford, just as it did last year when it agreed to 84 positions.
O'Leary also said that the union is willing to come to the bargaining table and discuss any issue - including overtime. But yesterday, the topic of the day was the court decision.
"This whole thing wasn't the Salem firefighters versus the mayor," O'Leary said. "It was about the safety of the residents of Salem and the safety of the firefighters. This whole thing is a victory for the city of Salem."
O'Leary called the city's plan to appeal "just another stall tactic."
Staff writer Sean Corcoran can be reached at (978) 338-2527 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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07-02-2004, 01:12 PM #1
Court orders mayor to fund firefighter contractI dont suffer from insanity, I enjoy every minute of it.
07-02-2004, 02:06 PM #2The average firefighter is guaranteed about $6,000 each year in overtime, as part of the union contract"It was about the safety of the residents of Salem and the safety of the firefighters. This whole thing is a victory for the city of Salem.""This thread is being closed as it is off-topic and not related to the fire industry." - Isn't that what the Off Duty forum was for?
07-02-2004, 03:09 PM #3
Bones, it could be something innocent. Our town's dispatchers aren't guaranteed overtime but the way shift scheduling works, there are 8 hours a week above what the staffing can cover without exceeding FLSA limits.
Rather than hire an additional person and incur all the associated costs, the extra work is rotated between the existing staff. They like it - more money every other paycheck and the town saves too.
Last edited by EFD840; 07-02-2004 at 04:27 PM.
07-02-2004, 03:51 PM #4
Bones...that's management talking..take it with a grain of salt.. there is no such thing as guaranteed overtime.
Like most departments in the area, they haven't had any recent hires, which woulsd help alleviate coverage. The firefighters already on the job get more vacation time, as negotiated by both sides... the Local and the City in the contract.
Vacation tours, coverage for training, IOD, sick time etc. have to be filled if the minimum staffing levels drop. There are also those incidents that reuire callbacks of off duty personnel.
Last edited by CaptainGonzo; 07-02-2004 at 03:53 PM."The education of a firefighter and the continued education of a firefighter is what makes "real" firefighters. Continuous skill development is the core of progressive firefighting. We learn by doing and doing it again and again, both on the training ground and the fireground."
Lt. Ray McCormack, FDNY
07-02-2004, 05:48 PM #5
- Join Date
- Jan 1999
With the way we run, I basically use my OT as a second job. The financial reality of where I live means that I need to work 2 jobs to afford to live in the Town I serve. If I took a second job unrelated to the Department, then many of our Station coverages would go un-manned, leaving the on duty crew down to one or two firefighters to protect the Town. But yet every year the Selectmen read that annual report and cry about how much money I make. Its a big catch-22...
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