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City Urged to Reject New Firefighter Award

City Urged to Reject New Firefighter Award

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Boston Globe via YellowBrix

May 18, 2010

BOSTON – The Boston City Council should reject an arbitration award for firefighters because the cost would be “disastrous for the taxpayers,’’ a fiscal watchdog agency said in a report yesterday.

The analysis by the Boston Finance Commission highlighted what the agency described as “deceptive’’ calculations by arbitrator Dana Edward Eischen, who estimated that the award would cost $39.4 million in retroactive pay. The city says the new contract would add $74 million in new costs. The firefighters’ union valued the award at $45.7 million.

Eischen’s price tag does not include overtime or the real value of a 2.5 percent raise on the last day of the contact, June 30, in exchange for random drug and alcohol testing, the commission said.

The arbitrator only included a single day’s pay at the higher rate, but firefighters will earn the higher amount going forward.

“This skews the appearance of total taxpayer costs,’’ according to the report by the Finance Commission, a state panel appointed by the governor that audit’s Boston’s fiscal affairs. “This is deceptive because . . . it will not be a one-time or one-day cost. It carries forward and not only increases employees’ regular hourly rates but their overtime rates, as well.

The commission said “compensation for drug and alcohol testing will grow with every increase that the employees receive in the future.’’

A firefighter with five years’ experience would receive $2,552 next fiscal year for drug and alcohol testing alone, an amount that would approach $100,000 over a 30-year career, according to the commission’s report.

The arbitration award released earlier this month after a four-year standoff must still go before the City Council, which can vote to fund the contract or reject it and send both sides back to the bargaining table.

Edward Kelly, president of Local 718 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, disputed the numbers used by the Finance Commission. The city has exaggerated the size of the four-year award by calculating it over five years, Kelly said, and by adding on an extra 2.5 percent in longevity pay that had been negotiated in previous contracts.

The city filed a legal brief during the arbitration process that did not assert an inability to fund the contract, he said.

“The city can afford it,’’ Kelly said.

The city contends that the raises total 19 percent over four years, including the longevity pay.

The Finance Commission pointed out that the arbitrator’s proposed contract would save the city some money on health care, but that a dollar figure could not be accurately estimated, said Matthew A. Cahill, the commission’s executive director.

The report also took issue with Eischen’s contention that the firefighters’ union made sacrifices in sick time and pensions. In both cases, abuses necessitated changes, and the pension reform occurred because of action in the Legislature, not a concession by the union, Cahill said.