Watertown, New York Hoping to Avoid Arbitration with Fire Captains
Watertown city officials have filed legal action against the city’s firefighters, hoping to prevent arbitration regarding the city’s decision to demote eight fire captains. The demotions came as part of a restructuring by the city in an effort to cut costs. The petition was filed by the city in State Supreme Court against the Watertown Professional Firefighters Association Local 191 seeking a permanent stay of arbitration. The union demanded arbitration in July by filing with the state Public Employment Relations Board.
The dispute between the city and the firefighters has been ongoing for two years over contracts. It reached its worst point in May when City Manager Sharon A. Addison demoted captains. She identified a “… disproportionate level of officer supervision in the department.” According to Addison, there were 27 officers and 48 firefighters.
The demoted captains were given job titles of unit leaders, but continued to deal with the same job responsibilities. The demotions came with a 20 percent reduction in salary. The city then eliminated unit leader positions in June.
According to the city, the union also violated the grievance process. They also stated the union cannot demand arbitration because there was no such thing as a union leader position when the union’s grievance was filed.
The union has also requested arbitration to help settle the dispute over firefighter salaries who performed out of title work. The city claims the collective bargaining agreement excludes salary disputes from the grievance and arbitration process, and that these things cannot be determined through arbitration.