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Letter: OT Was No. 1 Issue in Easton Union Deal

EASTON, Conn. — This letter was written by Easton First Selectman Thomas Herrmann and Fire Commission Chairman Robert Monda.

We are writing in response to an open letter from the members of the Local 1426 International Association of Firefighters AFL-CIO that appeared in The Daily Easton last week .  While we feel it is inappropriate for us to comment on the internal dynamics of the negotiation, the public deserves to have a context for understanding the outcome.

This was a particularly difficult labor negotiation. The central issue was the town’s contractual obligation to exclusively hire members of the Local 1426 to man the firehouse 24 hours per day, seven days per week, 365 days per year and the cost of overtime pay associated with that obligation. What was never at issue was the town’s commitment to manning the firehouse 24/7, 365 days. This is an important distinction, since public safety was never at risk during the negotiations.

The cost of the firefighters’ labor contract is the most expensive, per person, contract the town has with any labor group. The cost is $135,000 per firefighter, per year, inclusive of all benefits and due to the generous benefits package, overtime amounts to 25% to 30% of base wages. As a result, the focus of the negotiation was controlling the cost of overtime. But we wish to be clear, the town never engaged in conversations with the volunteers nor expected the volunteers to man the firehouse.  There were numerous alternatives for full coverage, including the hiring of part-time or special duty firefighters as the Police Department does with special duty officers.

At the end of the day, it was the union’s proposal to accept less in overtime pay in order to protect their monopoly over the manning of the firehouse. It is important to note that the Local 1426 itself offered the alternative method of overtime calculation that settled the negotiation, rather than face the arbitration panel.

Nonetheless, the cooperation and sacrifice demonstrated by the Firefighters Local 1426 was outstanding. In these difficult economic times, the union members stepped up and offered to increase the level of service provided to our town while reducing overtime compensation. The personal sacrifice our firefighters have demonstrated is consistent with the heroism they have become known for. We owe them a great debt of gratitude for all they do in Easton.

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