With contract talks stalled, the head of Kingston’s firefighters union said that his members might opt to ride out Mayor Shayne Gallo’s term in office without a contract and hope he doesn’t get re-elected, rather than seek binding arbitration. In an interview with the Kingston Times, Kingston Professional Firefighters Association President Tom Tiano accused Gallo of sabotaging contract talks and misleading the public about the union’s demands.
“He painted a very bad picture, like we’re the children of the devil and we don’t care about the people of the city whatsoever,” said Tiano of a recent radio appearance by Gallo on local radio station WGHQ in which he discussed the contract talks. “It was misleading and untruthful.”
City firefighters have been working without a contract since January 2012, the month Gallo took office. Kingston’s Police Benevolent Association and Civil Service Employees Association are also working on expired contracts. Since taking office, Gallo has promised to take a hard line with the unions by demanding concessions on manning clauses and other work rules that drive up overtime. Relations with the fire department have been especially rocky, though. Early in his term — following the departure of two top KFD officials in a payroll scandal — Gallo blasted the department as embodying a “culture of entitlement” that had prevailed under his predecessors. Gallo has also accused the firefighters’ union of making outrageous demands at contract talks including annual raises of 3.5 percent, an increase in the maximum number of accrued vacation days employees can carry over, and no increase in firefighters’ contribution to the city’s health plan.
Tiano, however, claims that Gallo is misleading the public about the nature of the contract talks. According to the union president, the 3.5 percent raise was simply an opening position that was quickly taken off the table and replaced with an offer of zero raises for three years. The request for an increase in carried over vacation days, Tiano said, was meant to accommodate Gallo’s own demand to reduce the number of firefighters who could take vacation at any given time while ensuring that senior employees would not lose accrued time off because of the 56-day cap. And Tiano said, while the union had declined a request to increase payments into the health care system beyond the current 10 percent, they had also offered to remove a $1,000 cap on health care payments. Removing the cap, Tiano said, would likely double actual dollars paid into the system by most firefighters and save the city money. Tiano said that Gallo had also rejected the union’s request to switch from 10- to 14-hour shifts to 24 hour shifts — a change he said would help cut overtime costs.
“Most of what we initially put on the table has already come off,” said Tiano. “But the Mayor fails to tell people that.”
A deal? Not quite
Tiano said that after a round of contract talks this spring, union officials believed they had struck a deal until Gallo added a demand for an increase in retiree health care contributions.