With deal reached, sense of relief among the ranks
Some ready to move on, but see tough road ahead
As the Boston City Council inched closer to voting on the arbitration award yesterday afternoon, about 150 firefighters lined the council chambers, wringing their hands and shifting uncomfortably in their seats.
They were eager for the vote. They were anxious to put it all behind them.
After years of wrangling between the City of Boston and its firefighters, the City Council voted, 12 to 1, yesterday to approve the agreement for a five-year contract granting a 17.5 percent raise from 2006 to 2011. The deal required compromises on both sides, including a wellness program for new department hires and a reduced 1.5 percent raise to firefighters for undergoing drug and alcohol screenings.
Frequently during the hearing, firefighters rose to applaud key players in the last-minute compromise with the city and councilors who voted “yes’’ on the contract.
“We were all just relieved, I think,’’ said Bob Kilduff, 38, a Roxbury firefighter. “It’s fair for everyone.’’
Many firefighters credited the compromise between the city and Local 718 as the deal that secured the council’s overwhelming vote in favor of the contract. “It was a great gesture,’’ said Ralph Dowing, 48, a Dorchester firefighter who serves as the recording secretary for the International Association of Firefighters Local 718. “It’s a feeling of relief. I’m just glad it’s over.’’
Still, following the vote, some firefighters in the chamber said that the agreement would not end the conflicts between the city and their department, given the depth of the animosity that has developed over the years.
Others said the vote would do little to restore their faith in city government, particularly in Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who was vocal in his opposition to the arbitrator’s original ruling that would have given the firefighters a 2.5 percent raise in return for accepting the drug tests.
“Binding arbitration is binding, that’s it. This should have never been put to a vote by the City Council. In fact, this should have been finished two years ago,’’ said retired Roxbury fire chief Fred Sullivan, 65.
“I’m glad to have this all behind us, but I know this won’t improve our relationship with the mayor. Menino has it out for us.’’
Oscar Francisco, an 18-year veteran, said the union “gave something back’’ by making concessions that will free up city funds to help the city’s libraries — an issue that was raised by Councilor Chuck Turner, who voted against the firefighter’s contract. Before announcing his vote, Turner spoke fervently about other city workers who are facing layoffs, including librarians.
Before the vote, city officials took turns lauding Edward A. Kelly, president of Local 718, for his decorum and willingness to compromise. But several firefighters said Kelly, who had become the target of public criticism recently, had never lost sight of the public interest.
“No matter what the arbitrator ruled, this [compromise] is what was best for citizens,’’ said firefighter Bob Petitti, 46. “It’s been a long four years; I’m glad in the end we all made out as well as we did.’’
Kelly, who received standing ovations from his constituents and was praised repeatedly after the council meeting was recessed, chose to turn the spotlight back onto his members.
“I would like to thank all the Boston firefighters for standing strong, for never turning their backs on each other,’’ Kelly said at the meeting.
“We turned what was a negative into a long-lasting positive.’’
Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Marissa Lang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.