City of Watertown, firefighters to vote on tentative agreement

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Mar. 3—WATERTOWN — The city and the firefighters union have a tentative agreement after meeting with a mediator on Wednesday.

Daniel D. Daugherty, president of Watertown Professional Firefighters Association Local 191, said he presented the tentative agreement to the union body on Thursday night and recommended that members accept it.

Union members are expected to vote on it in two weeks.

The City Council is expected to discuss the agreement during an executive session on Monday night under the subject of collective bargaining.

"Both the executive (union) board and the city's negotiating team are recommending passage by its constituents," Mr. Daugherty said.

Mr. Daugherty was surprised that the tentative contract wasn't listed during the open session of the meeting. Because of that, he declined to reveal the terms of the new contract.

"I don't know what I'm supposed to say," he said, adding that he doesn't know why it's not on the agenda as a voting item.

City Manager Kenneth A. Mix confirmed on Friday that a tentative agreement has been reached but didn't want to comment until he "informed council on what's in it" on Monday night.

The two sides met for several hours with mediator Bill Conley, who was involved in previous contract talks between the union and the city.

In November, the two sides seemingly were headed for a new contract, but after meeting for just two hours they jointly declared an impasse, which led to Wednesday's mediation.

Last fall, the union's negotiating team asked to begin contract talks with a different strategy of not having either attorney involved in the negotiations. They met twice that way.

At the time, Mr. Daugherty was optimistic about the new way of handling negotiations, hoping they could be done by the end of the year.

The city is represented by Steven G. Carling, whose law firm Harris Beach was chosen to provide interim attorney services after Robert J. Slye left the city at the end of last year.

Mr. Mix, human resources director Matthew Roy and city comptroller James E. Mills are also part of the negotiating table for the city.

Mr. Daugherty was joined during mediation by a seven-member team comprised of the union's executive committee and the board of trustees. Attorney Nathaniel G. Lambright represents the bargaining unit.

Last May, the two sides agreed on a new contract that gave the union's 68 members retroactive 3.25% pay increases for this year and last, but that agreement expired the following month and negotiations needed to begin once again.

It took six years to approve the previous contract as both sides fought during battles in and out of court.

Minimum staffing — the stipulation that 15 firefighters must be on duty at all times — was the sticking point that created hard feelings on both sides. That issue hasn't been discussed for a while, however.

Legal arguments over arbitration regarding the minimum staffing issue made it all the way to the state's highest court, with the union winning.