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Somerville, firefighters break stalemate, settle on eight-year contract

Posted by Marcia Dick  January 20, 2012 06:00 PM

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City of Somerville

Somerville Fire Union Local 76 President Jay Colbert (third from left), and Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone (center) sign a memorandum of agreement for a multiyear collective bargaining accord. Other participants in the signing ceremony, held on Thursday evening, are Union Local 76 Secretary/Treasurer Tom Ross (left foreground) and, for the city, Chief Labor Counsel Robert V. Collins, Jr, (second from left), Finance Director Ed Bean, and Chief Fire Engineer Kevin Kelleher (back to camera).

In a sudden resolution to a five-year stalemate between the City of Somerville and the union that represents local firefighters, both sides Thursday night  announced an eight-year contract agreement worth $3.72 million in back pay that also includes three future raises.

While the city said it is still calculating the exact sum it owes each union member, the agreement gives annual increases between 2 and 3 percent for each year from 2008 to 2015, a "significant" raise, said city spokesman Tom Champion.

The settlement is a drop from the $4.3 million  the firefighters would have received based on an arbitration ruling handed down by the Massachusetts Joint Labor-Management Committee in December.

"Is it something that we can live with? Yes," Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone said. "Is it a much better deal for the taxpayers of the city than we had to endure? Yes."

According to data provided by the city, in 2015 Somerville firefighters will make at least 20 percent more than they did in 2008, the year they received their last raise.

‘‘My members are ecstatic,’’ said Jay Colbert,  president of Somerville Local 76.  ‘‘They’re happy that it’s behind us.

‘‘We’ll get back on the rigs and go do what we do,’’ he said.

The union agreed to take the retroactive pay in two segments: $3.3 million will be disbursed before July 1, with the $420,000 balance to follow the next budget year. There are also provisions for annual pay increases of between 2.5 and 2 percent from fiscal 2013 to 2015.

City analysts are working to recalculate each firefighter’s retroactive payment, which could vary widely after factoring in secondary compensation such as overtime and holiday pay. The city expects to finish the number-crunching next week, Champion said.

Before the mayor can make the $3.3 million  appropriaton request to the Board of Aldermen, union attorneys agreed to drop legal action against the city, and for the union to withdraw its case from the Joint Labor-Management Committee.

It was unclear how long that process would take, Curtatone said.

The labor board award would have rolled stipends for uniforms, medical certification, and other achievements into base salary starting in 2009.

But city negotiatiors decreased the cost of that clause by excluding stipends for perfect attendance (up to $500)  and hazard pay ($1,000),  and by pushing the effective date for the new payments to July of this year, three years later than previously proposed.

Ultimately the move will save the city more than $467,000, Champion said.

Curtatone, who had predicted 31 layoffs and some cuts to services if the original arbitration award was enforced, said the agreement is "not an inexpensive deal" for the taxpayers, and predicted tough fiscal choices ahead.

"This is still not going to be easy," he said. "There are some budgetary challenges. But we can live with them."

Matt Byrne can be reached at mbyrne.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @MattByrneGlobe.

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Somerville Fire Union Local 76 President Jay Colbert (left) and Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone sign the agreement.

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