Settlement between city and union caps an emotional two years
Terming it an "exit interview," Lori Ann Santini, an eleven-year veteran of the Batavia Fire Department's EMS service, told City Council members Monday night that the council had "no idea the distress the employees of the medic division went through" in the months following the decision to discontinue the service.
Santani told the council that EMS personnel felt they were not treated with the dignity and respect they deserved.
"We were never given the dignity of a human being notifying us of our impending job loss," Santini said. "We only found out through the Web. Then we spent months listening to angry words from you again through the Internet and radio. Not one of you took time out of your lives to address us. We definitely deserved that courtesy."
It was an emotional statement from Santini, punctuated by her stern attempt to hold back tears.
"As I stand here today, in front of you, there is no statement, no thank you that would be enough to compensate for how you dismissed us," Santini said. "If you want the City of Batavia to grow you, need to remember these few thoughts. You have to make it a place that people want to live and work. You have to show you that your employees are equally valued and respected."
The council's unanimous decision to accept a settlement negotiated by City Manager Jason Molino ends the fire union's unfair labor practices claims. It also and gives 36 union firefighters raises and bonuses while ensuring Santini and her EMS colleagues will no longer be part of the Batavia Fire Department. City Council President Charlie Mallow said there was no other way of handling the personnel situation.
"You’ve got to understand the laws of this state and how they revolve around union employees," Mallow said. "It’s laid down very precisely how we can do these things. It’s bit cold. That’s how the system works."
Molino echoed Mallow's remarks, saying the city followed civil-service law in how it handled relations with the EMS employees and had no other course of action.
During the press conference, Mallow praised his council colleagues and Molino for making tough decisions and sticking together.
"Change is a pretty difficult thing especially being a municipality, especially with unionized employees," Mallow said. "This city had to make a very, very tough decisions. The people on the council who made (those decisions) took one for the city, for the long-term health of the city. There is no point at which this was an enjoyable experience for the last two years.
"This was always hanging over our heads, especially during tough times when you’re letting people go. I mean, Ms. Santini, it’s pretty heart wrenching. Someone lost her job. I’m very happy that the circumstances were that they were able to retain their jobs with another company, but there is no way this wasn’t a very traumatic experience for everyone on council as well."
Many city managers, Mallow said, would have looked for an easier path, but Molino saw what needed to be done and made the right recommendation.
"Maybe it would have been easy for him to recommend another 20-percent or 30-percent tax increase," Mallow said. "To keep going with the status quo over and and over again and just wait for those post-retirement hits that keep coming, but he didn’t take the easy way."
As for the future, Mallow, who's council term ends in three months, said somebody on the City Council needs to step up, be a leader and deal with the expense, for a small city, of an all-professional fire department.
"I know there is support on the council for that (going to at least partial volunteer), Mallow said. "That's where the next council has to go. We have to be proactive. We have to lower costs, we have to right size this small little city. If the new council is not willing to step up, there will be another tax increase. But that’s me speaking. I‘ve seen the numbers. I’ve seen where we’re heading."
Both Mallow and Molino hesitated to call the settlement with the union a "win-win situation." Both sides protected their interests and both sides gave up something.
"I think what happened here is you got both parties understanding that there is an increasing amount of risk in either direction and in order to resolve the issue, this is the conclusion that was come to," Molino said.
With Mallow adding, "You have a situation where the union leadership gave up 20 of their people. They also gave up a good percentage of their overtime. When you figure in adding back the four people, maybe half of their overtime. You have the city who gave, but the rank-and-file also gave. They gave dearly. So it’s hard to say that one side came out on top in this."
Press Conference Audio: