By Steven Fletcher
The city's firefighters' union is poised to ratify a new "memorandum" that will essentially extend its contract with the city, last ratified in 2010, for at least another year, city and union officials said Tuesday.
Negotiations on a new memorandum of agreement, Union President Phil Bouchie said Tuesday, have concluded pending the ratification vote Thursday night. A memorandum of agreement essentially makes minor changes to the contract, but keeps the current agreement in place.
Acting Fire Chief Steve Aiello confirmed that the union would hold a vote on a new contract. He said he told the Fire Chief Search Committee that negotiations had concluded during his interview Monday night.
Mayor Carolyn Kirk declined to comment Tuesday on what she termed ongoing negotiations Tuesday, and parties on both sides were quiet regarding any of the new memorandum's details.
Sources close to the negotiations said that the contract was modeled after the patrolmen's contract and any increases received by the firefighters would be the same as the city's other unions.
The contract contains no significant changes, those sources say.
The union's ratification would settle a contract that's been open since 2010.
Gloucester's Fire Department is the city's only department without a settled contract. And the road to ratification has been a bumpy one.
The contract, despite a state mediator aiding in negotiations, was on track for arbitration in December. But the union and city administration went back to the table for a new round in January.
Those talks fell through as well after the union rejected a city offer of more than $200,000 in raises in exchange for concessions on some of the union's so-called "discretionary" days — days off carried over from the previous year.
The administration, Kirk had said, wouldn't settle the contract without some changes in leave clauses.
Letting the fire chief, she had said, have some control over paid time off, had been a sticking point in negotiations. The city, she said, would also like to reduce the allowable absences, per shift, as well.
The Fire Department runs four shifts of 17 to 18 firefighters apiece. For each shift, the minimum staffing allowed by the contract is 14. At the most, five firefighters can be off on personal, or vacation time, during the same shift. That doesn't count sick leave, bereavement, military service or fire academy training.
If two firefighters are out on scheduled vacation, two in the fire academy, and one on medical leave, that leaves 13 firefighters on a shift, and requires overtime money to fill to 14.
Leave clauses aside, Bouchie had said, Kirk signed the contract and the city should fund what it needs.
With fewer people in the department, he said, leave digs into the ranks more noticeably. The department, he said, uses overtime to make up for fewer firefighters.
Steven Fletcher may be contacted at 1-978-283-7000 x3455, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevengdt.