The arbitrator who awarded Boston firefighters a 19 percent raise in exchange for submitting to random drug and alcohol testing said in his opinion released today that the testing is an unprecedented and groundbreaking concession that warranted the wage hike.
Dana Edward Eischen also said he was persuaded that the actual cost of the award is $39.4 million, far short of the $74 million that city officials have said it will cost, and that the city's position in bargaining was not palatable.
"I conclude that the City's proposal to skim the frosting, pocket the cake and avoid paying the fair, reasonable and affordable value of the meal is a hound that will not hunt," Eischen wrote in his 23-page decision. The full text of that decision can be found here. (Read the dissenting opinion from Leominster mayor and arbitration panel member Dean Mazzarella here.)
He added that "to hold otherwise would ascribe zero value to a milestone drug and alcohol policy of enormous, lasting and arguably 'priceless' benefit in terms of human lives of firefighters and members of the public saved or rescued."
A summary of the arbitrator's conclusions were announced last month.
Local 718 has defended the decision on its website, which can be found here.
Eischen said that 2.5 percent of the 19 percent raise was a direct "quid pro quo" for "gold standard truly random drug and alcohol testing of firefighters."
The award now goes to the Boston City Council, which can vote to approve the arbitrator's decision or reject it and send the city and firefighters back to the bargaining table. The summary of the decision can be found here.
In a statement, Mayor Menino called the award "enormous'' and said the city is scrambling to find the money to fund the wage hikes.
"The cost associated with this award is enormous and while we have some collective bargaining reserves set aside we have not set aside enough to fund this decision," Menino said.
He added, "libraries, community centers and other programs have been hit hard and while we are required by law to submit a funding package for this contract we are struggling to find the appropriate way to support the extra expense."
The arbitrator's decision, if approved, ends a bitter contract dispute that had stalled for nearly three years over the drug and alcohol testing, which the city wanted but firefighters had resisted without getting a significant pay increase in return.
The firefighters union has endured significant criticism for its resistance after autopsy reports indicated that two firefighters who died in a restaurant fire in August 2007 may have been impaired.
The decision is something of a victory for the firefighters union, which had been asking for pay and benefits equivalent to a 21 percent raise, and puts the city of Boston, which had initially offered a 14 percent salary increase, in a precarious negotiating position with other unions, such as those representing teachers and police. Both got 14 percent raises in their contracts and now could demand another 5 percent.
Boston Police have a drug testing policy that requires officers to submit to a random hair sample test within one month of their birthday each year. The firefighters, under the new policy, could be tested at any time.
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