NY demoted fire captains reinstated

In 2015, eight captains were demoted to firefighters, supposedly to save money


Craig Fox
Watertown Daily Times, N.Y.

WATERTOWN — For the past three years, Fire Chief Dale C. Herman recommended restoring four demoted fire captains back to their original rank.

City Council members finally listened on Monday night.

The issue of the demoted captains has been a critical point of contention in contract negotiations between the city and Watertown Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 191. (Photo/City of Watertown Fire Department Facebook)
The issue of the demoted captains has been a critical point of contention in contract negotiations between the city and Watertown Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 191. (Photo/City of Watertown Fire Department Facebook)

In a 3-2 vote, council members agreed to reinstate four firefighters to captain’s status.

Mayor Joseph M. Butler Jr. and new councilwoman Sarah V. Compo voted against the move. Council members Cody J. Horbacz, Ryan Henry Wilkinson and Lisa A. Ruggiero — who have been strong supporters of the fire department through a lengthy union dispute — voted yes.

“We’re righting a wrong,” Councilman Horbacz contended.

In 2015, eight captains were demoted to firefighters, supposedly to save money.

The issue of the demoted captains has been a critical point of contention in contract negotiations between the city and Watertown Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 191. The firefighters’ union has been without a contract since July 2014.

“In my opinion, they were used as pawns,” Councilman Horbacz said. “They were in the crosshairs.”

Last week, City Manager Richard M. Finn recommended restoring four of the demoted fire captains back to their original rank.

Mr. Finn said restoring the additional captain positions will cost the city $13,364 in the final quarter of its fiscal year, which ends July 1. The money would come from the city’s contingency fund.

The other four demoted captains were promoted through attrition. In 2015, the city demoted eight fire department captains, leaving firefighters to cover those responsibilities. In August, an arbitrator ruled that the city violated its collective bargaining agreement by not paying the firefighters the captains’ pay rate when they assumed captains’ responsibilities.

Mr. Finn believes the move will help heal wounds between the city and union.

“We can start to have a dialogue,” he said.

Mayor Butler opposed the move because the city paid lots of legal fees to get to the point when an arbitrator recently concluded that the city has the right to decide that kind of staffing.

“You know where I stand on it,” he said. “How are we going to pay for it? I worry about the taxpayers.”

Councilwoman Compo said she wasn’t against doing it so much. It was the timing, she said, contending that council members should have taken up the issue this spring during budget deliberations. They would then known how it would be paid for then, she said.

After the vote, Chief Herman said he proposed reinstating four captains in each of his three past budget proposals but the requests were left out.

“Council made the decision three years late, but...,” he said, stopping in mid-sentence.

The four captains will be put on the three engines and the ladder truck, he said.

Contacted Monday night, union president Daniel Daugherty believes all eight captains should be reinstated.

“It’s a step,” he said. “But my response is: it’s still four short.”

In a memo on Friday, Mr. Finn came to the recommendation after reading several studies of the fire department done over the past 10 years “to gain a more comprehensive understanding of our Fire Department and how the city might move to improve the overall operation of the Department.”

He said he will continue his review of the department over the next six months to a year, “which will lead to a series of recommendations aimed at making improvements” in the department.

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©2019 Watertown Daily Times (Watertown, N.Y.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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