Mendon, Massachuesetts Firefighter Unions Challenge Chief

Breaking their silence, Mendon's full-time and call firefighter unions spoke out against their new chief this week, with one group filing unfair labor practice charges with the state against the chief and selectmen.

According to Mendon Call Firefighters Association President Bill Krauss, Horn has not attended a biweekly call firefighters' meeting since Jan. 6, to keep them updated on training and departmental changes.

"It's not fair to the town and it's not fair to us," Krauss said.

Krauss, Peterson and Caron said their unions considered mass resignations following Horn's appointment, but have since opted against it, not wanting to jeopardize public safety and trust.

But the full-time firefighters union, protesting administrative changes Horn has made since taking over the department, has hired an attorney and filed unfair labor practice charges against selectmen and Horn with the state Labor Relations Commission.

The full-time firefighters charge that the town has refused to bargain in good faith with their union, has changed the department's rules and regulations -- in the form of the 87-page manual -- without providing an opportunity to bargain over the changes, and has increased the responsibilities and workload of the department's two lieutenants without allowing them a chance to bargain over the changes.

"They're changing our working conditions, which basically, they can't do," Caron said.

Caron also alleges the selectmen, in a Feb. 5, 2003, letter signed by selectmen Chairman Dennis Shaheen, and then-Selectmen Peter Confrey and Dale Pleau, unlawfully attempted to coerce the full-time firefighters from forming a union. In the letter, a copy of which was shown to the Daily News yesterday, selectmen wrote, "We urge you not to join a union."

Shaheen could not be reached for comment yesterday.

But while Caron would like to see these grievances resolved, the top priority of his union and of the call firefighters union is to get a professional firefighter atop the department.

"No disrespect to Ernie (Horn) but as the president of the Permanent Firefighters Association, I want a professional fire chief," Caron said.

By hiring a police officer to run the Fire Department, Peterson said the selectmen have put the public's safety at risk.

"I feel (the selectmen) did a great disservice and as a call firefighter, I feel this was a slap in the face," Peterson said.