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Arbitrator Defends Pay Raise For Boston Firefighters

Arbitrator Defends Pay Raise For Boston Firefighters

The AP via YellowBrix

May 09, 2010

A representative for the city in contentious firefighter contract talks accused an arbitrator of pulling an 11th hour “about-face” in awarding raises – a claim the union angrily rejected last night.

Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella, a member of the team that was negotiating a deal between Mayor Thomas M. Menino and Boston Firefighters Local 718, fired off a harshly worded letter yesterday calling arbitrator Dana Eischen’s ruling “arbitrary, punitive and . . . improper.”

“The manner in which this (labor) proceeding was conducted was a disgrace,” Mazzarella wrote, criticizing Eischen’s award giving members of Local 718 a 19 percent raise over four years.

Mazzarella was particularly critical of the final raise of the contract, a 2.5 percent hike that Eischen said was included as a “give” by the city in return for “an unprecedented, truly random drug and alcohol policy.”

Mazzarella said the sides had a “draft award” that included a total 14 percent pay raise for the firefighters, which was the same as police and teachers. But Mazzarella claimed the union’s representative on the board, Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts head Bob McCarthy, “complained” that the 14 percent raise “would look bad since the firefighters wouldn’t get extra money for the drug and alcohol testing policy.”

Mazzarella said McCarthy then made a proposal for an extra 3.5 percent raise that would kick in on June 30 – the final day of the contract. Eischen ultimately reduced that to 2.5 percent.

McCarthy called Mazzarella “delusional” and “less than honorable.”

Local 718 President Edward Kelly said last night the city is crying poor-mouth and has “ample reserves” to afford the contract.

“We think this award is fair,” Kelly told the Herald. “I think the city has plenty of money.”

The total raises in the contract amount to 16.5 percent, but the city contends the final hikes are actually 19 percent because of previously agreed upon 0.5 percent longevity raises that are tied to each of the five raises in the contract. The pay raises are retroactive and could result in one-time retroactive checks in excess of $20,000.

The deal, which needs approval from the city council, also increases the amount firefighters contribute toward their health plan from 10 percent to 15 percent.

Eischen pegged the value of the deal at $39 million, while the city claims it will cost $74 million.

“The cost associated with this award is enormous and while we have some collective bargaining reserves set aside, we have not set aside enough to fund this decision,” Menino said. “We are struggling to find the appropriate way to support the extra expense.”