NH Firefighters Picket amid Contract Dispute

May 8, 2018
Somersworth firefighters gathered in protest Monday night amid a contract dispute that has lingered since their previous deal expired in 2012.

May 08 -- SOMERSWORTH, NH -- Veteran city firefighter Mike Spinney takes his job seriously and knows the public expects him to. Now he wants the city to respond with a contract, which he says his union has been without since 2012.

"When somebody calls the fire department, (they) don't ask for a circus vehicle with six clowns rolling out of it," said Spinney, president of Somersworth Firefighters IAFF Local 2320. "They want the big red toolbox to roll up with five brain surgeon/rocket scientists to take care of their issues."

Spinney made the comments during an informational picket outside City Hall on Monday evening, which drew about 60 people.

Spinney said Somersworth firefighters' pay rate is ranked 26th out of 28 full-time fire departments statewide. He also says Somersworth suffers from a 70 percent turnover rate.

"We're looking for a fair, equitable and competitive contract for our members," Spinney said. "We got guys who are coming in and shuffling out to other places for better pay."

Spinney said a mediation meeting with city officials will be held June 4 at City Hall.

"We have to come out with a contract that is going to allow our members to go home with some money in their pockets at the end of the week for their families," Spinney said. "We do not disagree that there has to be some concessions on both sides. We have to make some concessions as far as our health care contributions go, but the city also needs to step up and give us a fair wage to offset that."

According to talking points provided by the picketers to bystanders, firefighter salaries in the 2012-2013 city budget amounted to $769,870, but $740,615 on the same line item in the 2018-19 budget.

Also noted in the talking points, the fire chief's salary has increased 17 percent over the past six years, while firefighters have been without a pay raise.

Jim Drakopoulos, a 13-year Somersworth firefighter, was pleased with the turnout and encouraged by the large numbers of drivers-by who expressed support by honking their car horns.

"It's great to have support not only from other firefighters, but from other members of the community," Drakopoulos said. "A lot were unaware we were working without a contract for one year, let alone (almost six)."

A number of firefighters from other communities were present, including Jeff Cullen of Sanford, Maine, who is a 13-year veteran firefighter in Wells, Maine.

"As a member of IAFF, we stick together," Cullen said. "We support them. Anything we can do to show our support and help get them to where they need to be, is what we're here to do."

City Manager Bob Bellmore declined comment.

At the subsequent City Council meeting, Councilor Martin Pepin said he hopes those involved will bargain in good faith, but the City Council's power is limited until a contract is presented for a vote.

"All our city employees, firefighters, police, teachers, (are) all underpaid," Pepin said. "Negotiations are a two-way street. It's best to sit down and talk. Every year that goes by without a contract, the gap gets bigger and bigger."

Councilor David Witham said he disagreed with one member of the public who spoke at the meeting and accused the city of being "anti-fire."

"I assure you this councilor is not anti-fire and anyone who doesn't know that, doesn't know me," Witham said. "It's true that seven years without a contract is too long. It's been painstaking."

___ (c)2018 the Foster's Daily Democrat (Dover, N.H.) Visit the Foster's Daily Democrat (Dover, N.H.) at www.fosters.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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