MANCHESTER, NH – Due to “unforeseen circumstances” the annual fire prevention parade scheduled for Oct. 7 has been cancelled, as per a memo issued Thursday by Manchester Fire Chief Dan Goonan.
In this case, “unforeseen circumstances” seems to translate to “no contract agreement” for city firefighters.
“I can’t set up a parade without planning, or volunteers – I heavily depend on volunteers for functions, and without a contract, the guys just aren’t committing to it. It’s not fair to anybody – including people going to the parade, not to get it right,” Goonan said. “Technically I made the decision, but I can’t plan on anything without knowing I’m going to have volunteers.”
Beyond canceling the parade, Goonan says he is forced to take immediate action on other fronts, including containing overtime costs and contracting out some of the work normally done by firefighters.
In a Sept. 20 letter [see below] sent to the city Board of Aldermen by Chief Goonan, he explained that he canceled the parade based in part on the content of a Sept. 19 letter [see below] received from Jeff Duval, president of Manchester Professional Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 856. Goonan said he would also begin subcontracting out the maintenance of safety equipment normally maintained by firefighters.
“… effective immediately the members of Local 856 will no longer fix and/or repair air pack harnesses, belts, batteries or any other parts of the air pack that needs repair, while on duty. The members will also no longer be responsible for ground ladder testing while on duty…,” adding that members would not object to being hired to do those jobs and paid time and a half “as is currently done for hose repair and mask fit testing.”
Goonan also informed the Board of Aldermen that he was concerned with a recent increase in sick leave usage, which was spiking overtime payouts.
“We are seeing an average of 3 additional members per shift using sick leave versus last year,” Goonan wrote. “My FY19 overtime budget is $1.3 million and to date we have spent $541,239 or 41 percent.”
He projected by the end of September that overtime spending would be $200,000 above where it was last year, and laid out the following plan:
“Beginning Sunday Sept. 23, 2018, when needed to fill vacancies, manpower will be made available by allowing pieces currently operating at 4 personnel to remain in service with 3 per shift. This will affecteStations 2,5, 6, 10. 11 and Truck 1. By managing our current staffing, we have the potential to make 6 members available on each of our 4 shifts to be used in an effort to significantly reduce overtime costs. If this does not create enough savings, rolling station closures may be necessary,” Goonan wrote.
Mayor Joyce Craig weighed in Friday, after digesting the missives from Goonan.
“This is a disappointing and unfortunate situation. The City and IAFF Local 856 have met numerous times over the last two weeks to negotiate a fair contract. I feel the conversations have been productive and we will continue to work until an agreement is reached.
“The City has found common ground with the local AFSME and Teamsters unions in recent weeks, and I am hopeful we will be able to do the same with IAFF Local 856.
“I appreciate everything Manchester Firefighters to for our city. They risk their lives every day to keep our city safe. We must work together toward a fair and equitable contract. I remain committed to working with all parties to find common ground and do what’s best for Manchester.”
Duval on Thursday maintained that the decisions made by Goonan were not based on any formal vote by members.
“The local did not take an official position on it, but there has been discussion among the members, some rumblings as to what we were going to do about the parade, due to being out of contract,” Duval said.
He added that Goonan likely was weighing the current “low morale” among city firefighters over contract disputes in deciding to cancel the annual parade.
“Morale is low. We held three informational meetings after one of the recent negotiation sessions and there were a lot of questions and concern from the membership,” Duval said.
He noted that firefighters did not participate in this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade for similar reasons, and also noted that in recent memory, he only recalls the annual Fire Prevention parade being cancelled once over the years, by then Chief Burkush, due to cost.
“As far as the membership goes, we never took any kind of vote on it this time – we may have gotten to that point during our next meeting on Oct. 3, but this was not something we weighed in on officially,” Duval said.
Goonan said the good news is that both sides are still negotiating.
I feel the frustration on both sides – the city has come farther than I thought they would, and the union has come further away from the police contract than I thought they would,” Goonan said. “We’re so close to a deal. There’s nothing more I want than for both sides to come together and make a deal. I’m just glad we’re still talking.”
Duval also expressed optimism that, with the support of the community, city firefighters will soon have a new contract on the table.
“We really need the community to reach out to their aldermen and – if they did vote for the contract, thank them. And if they didn’t, ask them why – with our guys putting their lives on the line 24 hours a day – aren’t we able to get a contract, Duval said. “Especially with this opioid epidemic. It’s getting worse, not better.”