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City Agreement Puts Eight Firefighters Back on the Job

City Agreement Puts Eight Firefighters Back on the Job

The Eagle Tribune via YellowBrix

September 22, 2010

LAWRENCE, MA- Eight of 24 city firefighters laid off in July are being rehired immediately after Mayor William Lantigua and Lawrence firefighters came to a long-awaited cost-savings agreement yesterday.

The Lawrence firefighters’ union voted 57 to 7 to make $241,000 in contract concessions, which include each firefighter working 24 hours overtime for free and giving up a week’s vacation. Firefighters voted on the contract concessions in meetings Monday night and yesterday afternoon.

Lantigua then agreed to match the firefighters’ concessions, tossing in $241,000 in new revenue so the city can rehire eight firefighters this week. City revenue has been higher than expected over the past several month, giving Lantigua some funds he could apply to the firefighters’ salary account, he explained.

He stressed that the money was not available in July, when 24 firefighters were among 84 municipal employees laid off to balance the $72 million municipal budget.

The names of the eight firefighters to be rehired were not available last night.

For months, Lantigua and other city officials, have stressed that union members needed to come to the table and agree to cost-saving concessions. The agreement yesterday came after weeks of closed-door discussions between the fire union and Lantigua. Both sides shared a extremely contentious relationship, but agreed not to discuss or leak any of the proposed concessions until the deal was done.

“It was a joint effort …We are able to bring eight firefighters back,” said Lantigua, adding that he wished he could rehire all of the laid off firefighters.

“We’ll continue talking. We’ll continue working together,” Lantigua added.

The agreement was approved last night by Robert Nunes, the city’s state appointed financial overseer. Under legislation passed earlier this year, Nunes has the authority to accept or reject any agreements between the city and unions.

Acting Fire Chief Brian Murphy, who for months has warned that the fire department is dangerously understaffed, thanked union members last night “for being the first to step foward.”

“This is an excellent first step; to get eight firefighters back,” he said.

Union President Patrick Driscoll added that firefighters are “always here to support the chief.”

“Hopefully, we’ll continue to work well with the administration from here on in,” said Driscoll.

Lantigua and Murphy also announched yesterday that the fire department has applied for a $6.8 million federal grant. If obtained, the grant could be used over the next two years to fund some 30 additional positions in the fire department, Murphy said.

Officials hope to hear if they’ve obtained the grant in the next 60 to 90 days. However, the grant process could take as much as a year, said Leonard Degnan, Lantigua’s chief of staff.

The $6.8 million federal grant would allow the city to reopen three of six closed firehouses. However, the rehire of 8 firefighters this week will have no impact on the closed firehouses, Murphy said.

The contract concessions agreed to requires each firefighter to work 24 hours overtime at “no compensation or cost to the city of Lawrence.”

In addition to giving up a week of vacation buyback, firefighters will also forgo a 2 percent training stipend and any possibility of a raise this fiscal year.

Lantigua said he hopes successful negotiations with the fire department will result in similar agreements with other city unions, including the police department, which suffered 23 layoffs in July. In total, the police department lost 41 officers due to a combination of layoffs, retirements and positions left unfilled from the previous fiscal year.

The mayor said he wants to negotiate in good faith with the police unions, but said a previous agreement that would have saved 10 police jobs was shot down. Going forward, Lantigua said its unclear if money will be available to match any concessions police or another union may agree to.

But if the unions agree to give up something substantial, he’ll go to the mat looking for the matching cash.

“If they come to the table in good faith, I’ll go through hell to find it,” Lantigua said.