• Barre firefighters’ new contract addresses raises, overtime
    By David Delcore
     | March 28,2013
     

    BARRE — It was nearly nine months overdue, required a trip through mediation and featured one false start, but members of the city’s fire and ambulance department have a new contract to go with the new turnout gear they’ll be receiving in the next few weeks.

    City councilors ratified the three-year deal during their weekly meeting Tuesday, ending what City Manager Steve Mackenzie described as “a long, thorough negotiation.”

    The 23-page contract that came out of that on-and-off process replaces the one-year deal that expired June 30.

    Councilors, who were briefed on the contract during a closed-door session before the public portion of their meeting, hastily approved the document after Mayor Thomas Lauzon thanked Mackenzie and Jeff Cochran, president of the 17-member firefighters union, for their efforts in reaching the agreement.

    Firefighters will receive raises totaling 6.5 percent over the next three years, though those promoted to officer positions will receive a somewhat higher bump based on a pre-existing salary schedule.

    The contract includes a first-year wage hike of 1.5 percent that will be retroactive to July 1, and annual increases of 2.5 percent in each of the final two years of the agreement. The contract runs through June 30, 2015, and the first of those increases will kick in July 1.

    Most key features of the contract did not change. That includes a minimum staffing provision that requires three union firefighters to be on duty at all times and a shift schedule that allows firefighters to work 24 hours followed by 72 hours off.

    The contract allows for a modestly expanded ability to use members of the department’s “call force” to cover full or partial shifts in the absence — scheduled or otherwise — of full-time firefighters.

    Mackenzie said that was probably the most significant change from the city’s perspective given its desire to corral overtime expenses.

    The contract creates a mechanism for firefighters to request compensatory time off instead of cash for overtime hours worked, with some restrictions, and acknowledges the city’s ability to reduce overtime expenses by not immediately calling in backup in nonemergency situations ranging from “lift assists” to checking on the health of a prisoner being held at the local lockup.

    With the exception of sunsetting employees’ ability to obtain coverage for domestic partners, the contract doesn’t make any immediate changes on the health insurance front. However, it does acknowledge the uncertainty that exists given state and federal reform efforts that could require both sides to return to the bargaining table before the contract expires.

    The contract also includes changes to the discipline and physical fitness provisions.

    The discipline language is stricter — extending from nine months to two years the time that records of warnings or reprimands remain in an employee’s personnel file and requiring permanent documentation of suspensions, demotions and other “major disciplinary actions.” Those new requirements do not apply to disciplinary action that occurred before July 1.

    The contract does include the possibility that disciplinary action could be taken against all new hires who fail to pass an annual physical fitness test. Those employed by the department before March 1 need only make a “good faith” effort to address deficiencies detected during the annual fitness exams.

    david.delcore @timesargus.com

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