Firefighters vote against wage freeze; layoffs forthcoming

By Seth Daniel

[email protected]

The Revere Firefighters Union has rejected Mayor Tom Ambrosino’s wage freeze proposal, which will lead to seven firefighter layoffs on July 1.

The move follows a vote by the Revere Police Patrolmen’s Union last month, who also rejected the mayor’s wage freeze proposal and has experienced nine layoffs.

Ambrosino said the vote of the union would carry consequences that he’s been very clear about for months.

“The consequence of the fire union vote not to defer compensation in fiscal year 2010 is seven layoffs,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The budget I submit to the City Council on June 1 will assume seven less firefighters, for a total of 89 as opposed to the current 96.”

He also said that if they take another vote, he would restore the layoffs. Otherwise, layoff notices would be sent in June.

“If the fire[fighters] union votes for the deferral prior to July 1, I will restore the seven to the budget and adjust the salary numbers accordingly,” he continued. “By prior agreement with fire union, these layoffs do not take effect until July 1.”

The mayor’s proposal included deferring all compensation in fiscal year 2010 in return for no layoffs.

So far, union members have chosen their words carefully, but don’t seem overly pleased with the mayor – just as the police patrolmen were left with a sour taste in their mouths.

The vote occurred last Wednesday evening, and it wasn’t unanimous.

Jim Caramello, president of the Revere Professional Firefighters Union #926, said the vote ended up being 40 against the proposal and 32 in favor of it, which was presented as a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA).

“MOAs are usually negotiated,” said Caramello. “This was presented to us as a take it or leave it type of concession. We were willing to discuss other ways to achieve the savings that the city was looking for. That tactic was denied, and it seems to be now that it’s being recognized. The ideas we have are currently being considered.”

With that said, there is some hope that the two parties can agree on something before July 1. However, there was that same optimism with the patrolmen’s union initially, and that seemed to reach deadlock quickly.

“I’ve told my members to keep their eyes on the union notification board in the event a special meeting needs to be called,” he said.

Caramello said the rejection vote occurred for different reasons.

“We feel we did not have the same protections available to us that were presented to other unions as safeguards to their concessions,” said Caramello. “As a true unionist or someone pro-labor, we would never attack a benefit that another union negotiated. Our response to them is congratulations and good luck. However, we feel that some of the concessions made by others could actually lead to costing the city money…I think our members were more concerned with the superior [police] officers and how they voted because there were protections afforded to them that were never presented to us.”

He said he couldn’t elaborate at this time on concessions that would cost the city money, saying only that there are examples.

An additional concern was the uncertainty of the state budget, with many members feeling as if it were too early to sign away concessions.

“That reason in itself makes my members uncomfortable in bargaining proposals before the numbers actually come down to cities and towns,” said Caramello.

He added the union has already made numerous concessions over the years, including nearly doubling their health insurance contributions, losing manpower due to attrition and splitting their percentage raise increases – not to mention the recent freeze in overtime spending that has resulted in the frequent closure of stations.

And in a nod to the police patrolmen’s union, Caramello said his members are worried about overall public safety due to the administration’s actions.

“We feel public safety could be compromised to the point where the protections afforded to this city in the past are no longer available,” he said. “Response times, property loss, and lifesaving medical attention are some of the things that concern us the most, and the reductions in numbers to our brothers in blue, the Revere PD [Police Department], also compromises the protection available to the citizens of Revere. I feel the ripple effect may also carry over to the School Department, because without public safety, the entire system begins to fail.”

Meanwhile, the mayor said he has been totally honest and upfront with every union, despite grumblings from many of them.

“I am completely honest with every union,” he said. “Some of them just don’t want to face reality. The facts are very public. Just take a look at the cherry sheets online in the state Department of Revenue’s website.”

Communications breakdown?

As the police and fire unions have negotiated with Mayor Tom Ambrosino, there have been numerous accusations about the mayor not being clear – or perhaps his even being deceptive.

None of the accusations were as heated as those leveled by members of the Police Patrolmen’s Union, who initially agreed to the mayor’s wage freeze in February, only to do an about face later in the spring and vote unanimously against it, thus suffering six additional layoffs because of that vote.

Union members and their representatives have said the original proposal didn’t include specifics.

Mayor Ambrosino, last week, forwarded the Journal a copy of his original letter to the police unions on February 7.

In that letter, he asks for a wage freeze on all compensation.

“I am requesting a wage freeze for one year,” the letter read. “Specifically, I propose that all financial considerations in the current bargaining agreements be deferred one full year from their current effective date, including the increase in employee health insurance costs.”

Apparently, union members believed the mayor was only talking about salary increases rather than compensation that included stipends, differentials and other payments.

In the end, it probably came down to the meaning of the word “all,” and apparently, both sides have a differing definition.

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