Arbitrator rules N.Y. city violated contract with firefighters' union

Ogdensburg was told to resume staffing each shift with a minimum of five members and to pay $532,042 in back wages to 16 firefighters

By Matt Curatolo
Watertown Daily Times, N.Y.

OGDENSBURG, N.Y. — An arbitrator has ruled that the city of Ogdensburg violated its contract with the firefighters union when it forced the department to staff less than five members on a shift over the last two years.

In the ruling by the New York State Public Employment Relations Board issued Dec. 10, arbitrator Timothy W. Gorman ruled that the city violated the six-year collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with Ogdensburg Professional Firefighters Local 1799. The union had filed grievances after the city dropped its number of firefighters to 21 in 2021 and 18 in 2022, which forced the department to staff four firefighters on a shift.

Ogdensburg violated its contract with the firefighters' union when it forced the department to staff fewer than five members on a shift over the last two years, an arbitrator has ruled.
Ogdensburg violated its contract with the firefighters' union when it forced the department to staff fewer than five members on a shift over the last two years, an arbitrator has ruled. (Photo/Ogdensburg Fire Department)

The contract states that a "minimum of 5 bargaining unit employees (4 Firefighters plus 1 officer, or 3 Firefighters plus 2 officers) shall be on duty at all times unless otherwise mutually agreed to in writing for the period of this contract."

"The Union's grievance is sustained. The City of Ogdensburg did violate Articles 18 (d) and (e) of the CBA. Upon receipt of this award the City of Ogdensburg will cease and desist from staffing each shift with less than a minimum of five bargaining unit members. It will also schedule each shift with a minimum of one Assistant Chief and one Captain, but only to the extent such positions exist," Mr. Gorman wrote in his ruling.

Since there were lost opportunities for overtime for Local 1799 members from Jan. 19, 2021, to June 12, 2022, when that fifth member was not added onto the shift, the union sought monetary back pay. Mr. Gorman stated a monetary award is "typical for minimum staffing violations."

"In this case there were a total of 10,617 hours where the fire department was staffed with less than the contractually required five Firefighters. These hours translate into $532,042 divided among the 16 City Firefighters who were denied overtime opportunities," Mr. Gorman wrote.

While Local 1799 asked for $532,042 as an award for the contract violation, Mr. Gorman stated the amount of "back pay" will be "remanded to the parties."

"I will give the parties an opportunity to fashion this back pay award. I will retain jurisdiction over the entire award including the back pay issue," he stated.

Local 1799 President Jason T. Bouchard said that the arbitrator's ruling justified the process and that, ultimately, they just wanted the city to abide by its contract.

"This is just proof that there's value in collective bargaining agreements and if the city, or any municipality, tries to violate said agreement there are processes that exist for unions such as ours to challenge and let justice be served. It's unfortunate that the citizens of Ogdensburg have been forced to fund this battle that was not only costing them money and violating our contract but also keeping them less safe by operating below minimum staffing requirements," Mr. Bouchard said, "I am incredibly proud of all of our brothers, past and present, who withstood this attack on our union and our contract and never gave into the demands of this management group who were acting illegally by violating our agreement with the city."

The grievance process began in 2020 and the city was granted a permanent stay of arbitration by state Supreme Court Judge Mary M. Farley on March 19, 2021. Local 1799 successfully appealed the decision this past January before the state Appellate Division in Albany.

An application submitted by the city to have the case heard before the Appellate Division was denied.


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McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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