Aldermen come to agreement with union, cite frustration with rhetoric

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Ward 3 Alderman Tim Baines on Oct. 16, 2018

MANCHESTER, NH – After 40 days without a contract and tense negotiations that ended in a stalemate in negotiations and a deadlocked vote, the Manchester Board of Aldermen agreed to ratify a new tentative agreement with the Manchester Professional Firefighters Union on Tuesday night.

The agreement will now layover to a future meeting for a final vote under Rule 26 of the Rules of the Board of Aldermen, with union members voting on their approval on the agreement from Oct. 18 to 28.

Details of the agreement address a wide variety of points, ranging from placing firefighters hired after Sept. 26 onto health savings plans until they conclude a probationary period, to a 1.5 percent Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) until June 30, 2018 and a 2.0 percent COLA afterward for a period of two years.

Under the agreement, any firefighters hired after Sept. 26 would not be given the “10-year step,” or automatic pay increase occurring on their tenth year of employment.

Comments from the board focused on actions of the union during the process, highlighted in prepared remarks from Tim Baines.

While campaigning, Baines told members of the union last summer that he would keep an open mind during negotiations, winning a union endorsement. He says that during this negotiation process he kept that promise but felt as though there was an expectation from the union that he owed them in exchange for his endorsement.

In the remarks, Baines indicated that his obligation was to the city as a whole, praising firefighters overall but chastising rhetoric from the union as well as misconceptions deliberately spread to misconstrue his viewpoints.

For Baines, the issue came to a zenith when a union member told Baines he was disgusted by him, just as Baines was leaving a wake.

Baines was particularly infuriated with comments made regarding a recent “sick out” by some fire department members, stating that if someone died while those firefighters called out of work in protest of the stalled negotiations, the Aldermen would be responsible.

“There is nobody on (the Board of Aldermen) deserving of that type of rhetoric and backlash, especially when the facts are the complete opposite,” said Baines. “The union heads have acted in an unprofessional manner that does not reflect positively on the brave firefighters who put their lives on the line each day for our community.”

At-Large Alderman Joseph Kelly Levasseur on Oct. 16, 2018

Baines’ speech drew praise from fellow aldermen Joseph Kelley Levasseur and John Cataldo, who also voiced concerns with the “sick out” action and the rhetoric, with Levasseur adding that participation in the “sick out” should be taken into account for any firefighters seeking promotion in the future.

“The word that comes to mind for me is disappointed, not mad,” said Cataldo. “It wasn’t necessary; things didn’t have to get to this point.”

Chris Herbert, whose statement was interrupted by Levasseur, agreed that negotiation was not a positive one, but said that what was needed to prevent future animosity was simplified negotiation, with more certainty on what firefighters can expect for compensation, and compensation should be fair.

“I don’t think they’re asking for the moon,” he said.

The agreement was approved by a non-unanimous voice vote.

Earlier in the meeting, a new agreement with the Fire Department’s supervisors union was approved unanimously without discussion.