NH city officials reach tentative deal with firefighter union

Sources say the contract includes a 1.5 percent raise plus steps and longevities in the first year and 2 percent pay hikes in years two and three

By Paul Feely
New Hampshire Union Leader

MANCHESTER, N.H. — Aldermen emerged from a non-public session Tuesday night at City Hall with a consensus vote supporting a tentative three-year agreement with members of the city’s firefighter unions.

Sources say the contract includes a 1.5 percent raise plus steps and longevities in the first year (with steps 17-18 and longevities restored, but no retro pay) and 2 percent pay hikes in years two and three (plus steps and longevities).

It will appear as a tentative agreement on the agenda for the Oct. 16 meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. The language will then lay over until the full board meets to ratify the deal on Oct. 30.

A source close to the negotiations said a “vast majority” of board members supported the agreement, but would not comment on who supported or opposed the deal.

Jeff Duval, president of Manchester Professional Fire Fighters Association, IAFF Local 856, said union members were pleased with the news.

He said informational sessions would be scheduled with union members to go over items included in the agreement. Ballots will then be distributed to fire houses across the city, with the goal of a vote by the end of October.

“Now it’s in the hands of our members,” said Duval.

Last month, Craig voted to reject a contract proposal brought forth by the firefighter unions, breaking a 7-7 tie vote by the aldermen. The proposal included a 2 percent cost of living adjustment (COLA), merit and longevity steps retroactive to July 1, COLA increases equal to the city tax cap on July 1 in 2019 and 2020, and merit and longevity steps.

It was supported by aldermen Kevin Cavanaugh, Will Stewart, Chris Herbert, Dan O’Neil, Bill Shea, Bill Barry, and Normand Gamache. Opposing the deal were Tim Baines, Tony Sapienza, Elizabeth Moreau, Joe Kelly Levasseur, John Cataldo, Barbara Shaw, Keith Hirschmann and Craig.

City firefighters and fire supervisors unions began negotiating new contracts with the city in June 2016.

Initially, discussions centered around a multi-year contract, but the parties agreed on a one-year contract extension that included a 1 percent salary increase and continued merit and longevity steps for fiscal year 2017. The unions declared an impasse, and a mediation session failed to produce a new agreement.

A fact-finding hearing was held in April 2016, with attorney Gary Altman serving as fact-finder. In his report, Altman recommended both firefighter unions receive 3 percent salary increases on July 1, 2017, and July 1, 2018. The report also found members of both unions should be paid an additional $40 per week effective last July 1 and $50 per week on July 1, 2018 in hazard pay “in recognition of the increasingly hazardous working conditions” in Manchester — similar to a contract with the Manchester Police Patrolman’s Association the aldermen approved in September 2016.

Members of Local 856 and the Manchester Association of Fire Supervisors, IAFF Local 3820 voted to adopt the fact finders report.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted in June 2017 to approve the report, 7-6, with Cavanaugh, Herbert, O’Neil, Barry, Gamache, and former aldermen Ron Ludwig and Tom Katsiantonis voting in favor. Opposed were Hirschmann, Sapienza, Levasseur, Shea, Shaw and former alderman Pat Long.

Former Mayor Ted Gatsas blocked the vote with a veto, saying the two-year price tag of the recommendations made in the report — totaling more than $4 million — would lead to future job losses.

In recent weeks, Fire Chief Dan Goonan reduced the number of firefighters working per shift from 46 to 37 to cover a budget shortfall caused by an increase in overtime — fueled by a surge in sick time use by union members. When a firefighter calls out sick, another would be brought on using overtime to fill the vacancy.

Data provided by the fire department show from July 1 through Sept. 26, that 4,362 more firefighters have called out sick this year compared to the same time period last year. According to the statistics, 3,128 firefighters called out sick from July 1, 2017, through Sept. 26, 2017. That number jumps to 7,490 between July 1 and Sept. 26 this year.

The fire department’s overtime budget is $1,341,000. Through the first 11 weeks of the fiscal year, Goonan said, he had already burned through 41 percent of his overtime budget.

Copyright 2018 New Hampshire Union Leader

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