NY town lawmakers reject expanding sick time policy

Mayor Butler wanted to expand the policy to prohibit firefighters from being called in to work if their coworkers are on vacation, have time off or are on leave

By Craig Fox
Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN, N.Y. — Mayor Joseph M. Butler on Tuesday night received no support for expanding a policy that began in November that no longer allows firefighters to fill in for colleagues who call in sick.

Mayor Butler wanted to expand the policy to prohibit firefighters from being called in to work if their colleagues are on vacation, have scheduled time off or are on bereavement leave.

He contended that a recent Supreme Court decision no longer requires the city to have 15 firefighters on duty at all times, so the city could move ahead with expanding the policy.

But none of the City Council members would go along with the proposal on Tuesday night.

In disagreeing with the mayor, Councilwoman Lisa A. Ruggiero said the Watertown Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 191 could win a court appeal that overturns Judge James P. McClusky's Jan. 16 decision.

"You have to rely on what judges are going to do," she warned the mayor.

While he did not get support for his proposal, council members agreed on the "status quo" for the sick time policy to continue. The policy allows for 13 firefighters to work at one time, the mayor said.

The city has saved more than $32,000 in overtime costs since the sick policy began.

Earlier in the meeting, two former City Council candidates -- Cliff G. Olney III and firefighter Todd R. DeMar -- spoke against expanding the policy.

The mayor's proposal was the latest twist in a nasty 3 1/2 -year contract dispute between the city and the firefighters' union.

The main sticking point is the "minimum manning" clause in the contract that requires 15 firefighters are on duty at all times.

The four council members have been critical of the city dragging out the contract dispute any longer.

Meanwhile, Mayor Butler still wants a consultant that completed a 2015 study on the operations of the fire department to conduct a full re-evaluation of its staffing levels and deployment model.

He hopes to arrange in a week or so for Washington, D.C.-based consultant Center for Public Safety Management to agree to complete the study.

On the request of Councilman Ryan Henry-Wilkinson, his colleagues agreed to meet with Fire Chief Dale C. Herman and Deputy Chief Russell J. Randall to talk about how some of the city's collective bargaining decisions have affected the fire department.

The two fire department leaders will attend a March 5 council meeting to discuss such issues.

The 70-member firefighters' union has been without a contract since July 2014.

Copyright 2018 Watertown Daily Times

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