Barre fire and ambulance union, city returning to talks
BARRE — Representatives of the city and its fire and ambulance department are scheduled to return to the bargaining table today in an effort to reach a settlement in union contract talks that have spanned more than seven months.
Today’s session will be the second face-to-face meeting between the two sides since they first met with a federal mediator late last month.
City Manager Steve Mackenzie said this week that negotiators for the city and the firefighters union were unable to reach a settlement during a half-day bargaining session Feb. 7 and agreed to try “one more time” today.
“It’s still premature to tell where we will end up, but we’ve agreed … to meet and see if we can’t successfully conclude these negotiations,” Mackenzie said.
There is some pressure on both sides.
The city’s 17 union firefighters have been working without a contract since July — effectively extending the wage freeze they agreed to in the one-year contract that expired June 30. That contract did allow for annual “step increases” for eligible members of the department.
Meanwhile, with barely a quarter remaining in the current fiscal year and a proposed budget based on assumptions involving still-unsettled negotiations on next month’s Town Meeting Day ballot, Mackenzie said he is hoping for “closure.”
When talks broke off in December, they agreed to call in a mediator.
Mackenzie was guardedly optimistic after last month’s five-hour session with Cynthia Jeffries, a commissioner with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Jeffries was able to persuade the two sides to resume negotiations.
Until the dispute is resolved, firefighters will work under the terms of the now-lapsed contract.
With the exception of the provision on wages, it was virtually identical to the five-year agreement it replaced. Under that agreement, firefighters received raises totaling 17 percent — 3 percent in each of the first three years and 4 percent in the final two.
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