Without some give-and-take in negotiations between the city and the firefighter's union in talks resuming today, the Bay View Fire Station may stay closed for most of the foreseeable future, Mayor Carolyn Kirk said Wednesday.
The city's administration and the local firefighters union are returning to the negotiating table today, union president Phil Bouchie confirmed Wednesday.
Bouchie said the union is ready to bargain in good faith with the city, and Kirk said the city will make fair proposals as well.
"The only way we will see Bay View open more regularly is with the administration and Fire Department working cooperatively," Kirk stated in an email, "this means give and take in the contract negotiations."
Negotiations over the union's contract fell through late last year. Without an agreement between the city and the union, talks will head to an arbitration hearing in the distant future.
Today's resumed talks come after Kirk agreed to have the city provide the Fire Department with $30,000 of overtime money to keep the West Gloucester Station open.
The added dollars will enable the department to be staffed at contract-specified minimum manning for an estimated 30 days, while talks continue. The department exhausted over $200,000 in overtime funds last month, spending its budgeted limit well before the end of the fiscal year for the third time in a row,.
The new overtime money allows the department to call in off-duty firefighters on overtime when staffing comes up short on a given shift, and it covers the department for manning all engines in Central Station, keeping both ambulances running, and West Gloucester Station open, interim Fire Chief Phil Dench has said.
But Kirk approved only $30,000 from the city's "free cash" account to maintain minimum manning because the union contract is under negotiation. The administration, she added, isn't comfortable with funding any more than a month's worth of overtime while the contract is up in the air.
The contract's leave clauses and the fire chief's inability by contract to regulate leave, Kirk had said, are at the root of what keeps the stations closed.
The department runs four shifts, three at 18 firefighters and one at 17. The union's contract sets minimum manning for stations at 14. When fewer than 14 firefighters report for duty, the department has to call in firefighters on overtime.
On a shift of 17 firefighters, if two are out on medical leave, one out sick, and two at the fire academy, the department has to fill to 14 slots.
At current staffing levels, said Bouchie, some shifts in the department couldn't keep Bay View open without overtime. The department closes Bay View when less than 16 firefighters report for duty — and the station remained closed throughout Wednesday and overnight.
"My group only has 15 firefighters available," he said.
It's impossible, he said, to open Bay View without more firefighters or overtime.
This month, Dench said, the department has used less than $5,000 to fill stations to minimum manning. He added that overtime spending comes and goes, and usually winds down in January.
But to keep the outskirt stations — West Gloucester, Bay View and Magnolia — open on a regular basis, both the union and the city will have to work together.
"It's going to take both sides," Dench said.
The Magnolia station has not opened since late August.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.