FFs fight city over removal of thin red line flag
Community members held a rally Monday to protest the mayor's order to remove all flags outside city buildings except the U.S. and city flags
Julie M. Cohen
Wicked Local Metro, Needham, Mass.
NEWTON, Mass. — The Newton Firefighters Association said on Monday it is taking legal action against the city for taking down a remembrance flag last week that had been hanging inside Station 4 for the last 2½ years.
Marc Rizza, Local 863 president, said in a statement that hanging the Thin Red Line flag "is a protected activity under the collective bargaining laws of the Commonwealth."
In response to what Rizza called the city's "unilateral" action, "Local 863 has filed a charge against the city with the Commonwealth's Department of Labor Relations."
Mayor Ruthanne Fuller's office was unable to comment Monday on the union's decision.
"We fly the remembrance flag in honor of the valiant men and woman who sacrificed so much to protect their communities. Keeping alive the memory of those who gave their all is a deep part of who we are," said Rizza.
Taking down the Station 4 flag, which was put up inside, was part of Fuller's decision to allow only the American flag and other Newton banners to hang on the sides of all city buildings.
After learning of Fuller's decision, which was made the same week as Flag Day on June 14, several people organized a rally that was held outside of the station on Monday night to protest the move.
Paul Pasquarosa, one of the protest organizers, said he respects the mayor, "But she missed on this."
After learning of the order to remove the flag, Pasquarosa said he wished there had been dialogue.
Rizza said while the union found the public support heartwarming, members would not be participating in the demonstration.
The decision "is based on our concern that some may seek to use this event to create controversy over the recent protests that have been taking place in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd and most recently, Rayshard Brooks [two unarmed Black men], by law enforcement officers," said Rizza.
City Council Vice President Rick Lipof, who will be speaking at the protest, said the mayor's decision, "should have been thought about a little bit more."
City Council President Susan Albright and Lipof said they had not been informed about the move ahead of time.
"The mayor supports the values embedded in the Firefighters Remembrance Flag and is deeply grateful for the sacrifices made by our firefighters," according to a Monday statement from the mayor's office. "This is not about one particular flag. Rather, this is about not putting the city in a position of censoring/endorsing which banners and ideas put forward by our employees will be on the sides of our buildings."
"Her decision to do this across all departments and all properties is an attempt to create uniformity," said Lipof. However, "this has created a flag debate that we just don't need at this point in time."
"Firefighters are not alone in utilizing a thin colored line as part of a remembrance flag," stated Rizza. "Nurses use a thin white and red line. EMTs use a thin white line. Correctional officers use a thin silver line. The list goes on."
In addition, the mayor said Newton employees should only wear face coverings that are solid, floral or striped and have no logos or symbols.
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