[quote]Northampton firefighters claim salvage duty is unfair
By DAN CROWLEY
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Tuesday, June 7, 2011
NORTHAMPTON - Work to salvage an elderly man's belongings after his roof collapsed under snow this winter is the subject of an unfair labor practice complaint filed by the Northampton firefighters union.
While the union says such work falls outside their job description, city officials liken it to salvaging the possessions of city residents whose homes are ravaged by fire or flooding, which firefighters do regularly.
"I don't see it as any different," Mayor Clare Higgins said. "This is a salvage operation. This is an elderly gentleman in desperate need of help from the city."
Meantime, the city faces another complaint filed by the International Association of Firefighters Local 108 over the transfer of money in April from the Fire Department's Emergency Medical Services fund to cover overtime expenses in the department, which the City Council approved. The money in that fund is generated by ambulance revenues.
The latter grievance was denied by Fire Chief Brian P. Duggan in May and is now before Glenda Stoddard, the city's human resources director. Depending on how Stoddard responds, the matter could move to arbitration.
The complaints come as the mayor negotiates a new contract with the firefighters union, which is the only union not to opt into a new health insurance plan for the next fiscal year. The union is working under a contract that expired a year ago.
"There's often more grievances when we're in the middle of negotiations," said Higgins, when asked whether the two complaints might be driven by difficult labor talks.
Laurel Park operation
The roof of John Masloski's red, two-story home in Laurel Park caved in under the weight of snow in February and city officials later ordered the house demolished for safety reasons. Masloski, 77, lives in Florence and his Laurel Park home, while uninhabited for years, contained many of his belongings.
Duggan dispatched a crew of four firefighters to the scene Feb. 24. The union says the firefighters were "ordered" by the city to help remove personal items from Masloski's small house and put them into a U-Haul truck. They say they shouldn't be doing that work, according to a complaint filed with the state Division of Labor Relations.
Northampton Firefighter Michael Hatch, president of IAFF, Local 108, could not be reached for comment, but the union's complaint states the city "changed the job duties" without providing notice to the union or an opportunity to negotiate, "and thereby bargained in bad faith." Timothy Belcher, an attorney representing the union in the labor complaint, could not be reached Monday for comment.
The demolition project cost Northampton approximately $15,000 as Masloski did not have homeowner's insurance or the financial means to pay for the work. At the time, Building Commissioner Louis Hasbrouck said the city would try to save many of Masloski's possessions, which included old tools, a hand-carved cigar store Indian, an antique Dr. Pepper sign and an old record player. The salvaged items also included an unused Whirlpool washing machine that Masloski won in a contest years ago.
"The building commissioner asked if an engine company could assist, which I assigned," Duggan said. "They were there for the demo and could be pulled away" in an emergency.
Duggan said he viewed the task as "protecting property and salvage," something firefighters do routinely.
"The (firefighters union) sees it as a change in the fabric of what their job description and role is," he said. "The city's perspective is it's salvage of a person's property who really needed assistance. I share the view that this is a project of saving someone's property as we do with fire, flooding, etc."
The City Council last Thursday transferred $2,500 into the city's Legal Services budget, funds Higgins said are directly related to defending the complaints filed by Local 108.
In a separate complaint, the firefighters union alleges the city wrongly used $60,000 from the Fire Department's EMS reserve or ambulance receipts fund to pay for an overtime deficit in the Fire Department. The union contends that money should be spent only for operating and maintaining the department's emergency medical services.
The union points to an article in its contract, which states: "In order to successfully develop EMS within the Northampton Fire Department, the city and union agree that all (EMS) receipts and budgeted surplus will be transferred and held in an EMS Reserve Account." The union is requesting the city pay back the money immediately, its complaint states.
Higgins said the city did not have the cash on hand to pay for Fire Department overtime, which is historically underfunded at approximately $90,000 but hits about $300,000 per year.
Duggan said the Fire Department estimated it would take in $1.56 million in ambulance revenues this year, but that figure is expected to top $1.9 million.
Higgins said it was a tough year financially and she had to use the money with little to no free cash or rainy-day funds on the city's books to pay for the Fire Department's overtime deficit.
Duggan said tapping the EMS reserve fund means less cash will be available in the future to pay for EMS equipment and ambulances, however. He denied the union's grievance on several grounds.
"It's something that clearly was not well received by my people, but it's a decision that was made and implemented," Duggan said. As for city councilors who approved the financial transfer, several said that EMS funds can be used for any lawful municipal purpose, including paying for Fire Department overtime.
"I don't know what they would be complaining about this for," said Ward 7 City Councilor Eugene A. Tacy, who serves on the Finance Committee.
Ward 5 City Councilor David A. Murphy, who serves on the Public Safety Committee said this: "I'm assuming they don't think it's going to be transferred and held forever, or reserved indefinitely."
Dan Crowley can be reached at email@example.com.[/quote]
[b]The roof of John Masloski's red, two-story home in Laurel Park caved in under the weight of snow in February and city officials later ordered the house demolished for safety reasons. Masloski, 77, lives in Florence and his Laurel Park home, while uninhabited for years, contained many of his belongings.
The demolition project cost Northampton approximately $15,000 as Masloski did not have homeowner's insurance or the financial means to pay for the work. At the time, Building Commissioner Louis Hasbrouck said the city would try to save many of Masloski's possessions, which included old tools, a hand-carved cigar store Indian, an antique Dr. Pepper sign and an old record player. The salvaged items also included an unused Whirlpool washing machine that Masloski won in a contest years ago.[/b]
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My humble opinion.... the only reason to enter this structture was to search for victims. As a command officer, the thought of putting someone into a house that was abandoned abandoned decades ago with a structural collapse that caused its demolition to look for "stuff" compromised the safety of the personnel of the Northhampton firefighters.
PS: I know Chief Duggan. He used to be the Chief in the town of Northborough.