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City firefighters will keep jobs, get raises and bonus under terms of settlement

By Howard B. Owens

Greg Ireland, fire union president, and Batavia City Manager Jason Molino have cut a deal after a marathon negotiation session Tuesday that will save some Fire Department jobs and put more money in the pockets of firefighters.

In exchange for several concessions by the city, the firefighters' union has agreed to drop its unfair labor practices claim against the city.

The Batavian has confirmed with two sources that the city has agreed to retain four positions that were slated for termination Monday, and to extend the current union contract -- originally ending in 2011 -- by two years, provide a 5-percent pay raise over the next two years and pay each member of the department a $1,000 bonus.

Additionally, the Sept. 1 staffing of 36 paid personnel will be retained throughout the term of the contract and not be reduced by either layoff or attrition.

Neither Molino nor Ireland would comment on specifics of the agreement (Molino spoke with WBTA this afternoon and would not confirm the settlement).

The City Council is meeting in closed session at this hour to hear for the first time details of the proposed settlement.  When reached this afternoon, City Council President Charlie Mallow said he had no insights into the agreement.

Both the union and the council would need to approve the settlement.

The need for a settlement arises from the city's decision to eliminate the city ambulance service. The union maintained that the decision to eliminate the union jobs and inevitably replace them with contract workers violated the Taylor Law.  The union filed its claim immediately after a county task force announced Mercy Flight as the preferred contractor for ground ambulance service in the county starting Sept. 1.

"The best solution for everyone involved, every one involved, including the city, the fire department and the community is to have a settlement in place before Sept. 1," said Ireland in a phone interview this evening.

Some people think Mercy Flight won't respond to calls in the city unless the city signs a contract with Mercy Flight, but Mercy Flight will be based in the city and Mercy Flight executives have said the ground ambulance service will respond to any calls sent to it by Genesee County dispatchers. But with a settlement, the city can sign a contract with Mercy Flight that will guarantee response times.

Ireland said the main reason to reach a settlement before Sept. 1 is just to ensure everybody can work together well.

"As we move forward, if there is a different ambulance service, then we need to continue to work with them as well because we're going to be on scenes together," Ireland said. "We need to be able to work amicably with everyone."

Many of the Mercy Flight employees will be former members of the city ambulance service. Fifteen city employees were hired by the Buffalo-based non-profit organization.

Under terms of the settlement, the EMS members who had their jobs eliminated will retain their unused vacation and comp time, holiday pay and earned longevity. Those stipulations appear to be items the laid-off workers would have received anyway. They will also get half of their sick time and one-month additional health care coverage.

AUDIO: Interview with Greg Ireland

UPDATE 7:50 p.m.: Council members came out of their closed session smiling and laughing but wouldn't comment on the settlement proposal. When asked what he thought of the settlement or if council would support it, a jovial Frank Ferrando said both times, "We'll have more for you on Monday."

Mallow said the council will meet in public session Monday, but stopped short of saying there would be a vote that night.

Molino only said "no comment."

tom hunt

I find it a dirty shame when the firemen of this city hold hostage the city manager and the tax payers with the threat of a lawsuit. In this time of diminishing job expectations and out right loss of jobs I find this out right disgusting that a group of self serving individuals, that feed out of the public trough, would make these demands.
Do I have to remind the reader of a report of several months ago that stated that 7 out of the 10 highest paid city workers are rank and file firemen. Granted the over time accounts for the majority of this discrepancy.
I would hope that the City Fathers would take a long and hard look at the total costs of running this department with an eye on cost reductions if not out right elimination.

Aug 27, 2009, 9:51pm Permalink
Doug Yeomans

And when there's a fire, then what? All the neighbors of the house that's on fire should just form a bucket brigade? I'm not sure if you're aware of the extensive training a fireman goes through every year to be able to save your butt when your house is burning down or when you've crashed your car and need to be cut from it like sardines from a tin can. These guys deserve everything they're being paid.

Aug 28, 2009, 7:08am Permalink
Howard B. Owens

Are city firefighters overpaid? I can see how some think so. Is this a good deal for firefighters? Probably. Does the fire department cost the city a lot of money? Yes.

Come to whatever conclusion you like, but then think about the two men who lost their lives in Buffalo this week trying to rescue a person trapped in a burning building.

Aug 28, 2009, 8:07am Permalink
Rich Martin

I agree with tp. Hostage is the right word.
The problem here is not the need for firefighters and certainly not the ability of these brave men and the jobs they are called upon to do. Every man in the department is paid a good wage and recieves a generous benifit package. The abuse of overtime to almost double thier annual saleries is what I have a problem with. No question when fighting a fire but these guy have milking it down to a science. Maybe the next time we need a city administrator we should hire a retired firefighter.. they know how to get what they want. For that matter why get a retired one..why not a guy who is already on the city payroll and let him double dip

Aug 28, 2009, 8:24am Permalink
John Roach

While the details are not out yet, and may end up being a good deal for the City, some questions remain.

How does this affect City Council direction that the City Manger study a volunteer fire department? Has that whole idea been shelved as part of this?

If the contract was extended, does not kill overtime reform?

How will this affect the proposed consolidation plan with the Town of Batavia? Councilman Bill Cox has said consolidation, without addressing the Fire and Police Departments makes no sense, and this proves his point.

Will the Town of Batavia look at this as another reason not to consolidate?

If they consolidate, should they become a “town”? Towns can not have paid fire departments.

Since people on Social Security are not likely to get a cost of living increase next year (according to the government), how much will this raise their taxes?

Aug 28, 2009, 8:46am Permalink
Karen Miconi

The loss of life in Buffalo was a terrible thing. In no way would I ever overshadow todays memorial service for them. I have just one fact to bring up. The one firefighter was at the fire, because he was trying to put in a little overtime, at another station. I'm wondering how the overtime in Buffalo is handled. Is it similar to the Batavia Unions overtime? Isnt there a cap on this expence? Again I mean no disrespect to them, just trying to figure this out.

Aug 28, 2009, 9:37am Permalink

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