GLOVERSVILLE — Officials in the city have reached an agreement with the firefighters over payroll cuts demanded by the city that have been in negotiation since January, overcoming months of failed talks and maneuvering by both sides.
City and fire officials said the impasse was broken at an all-day session Friday when a tentative agreement was struck between Mayor Dayton King and Gloversville Firefighters Association Local 719 President Edward Martelle. The agreement was ratified by firefighters on Monday, according to a spokesman for Local 719, and finalized at a council meeting Tuesday night.
Martelle said the process has been a long one, but thanked the mayor and council for agreeing to the new deal.
“I think that ultimately the goal was to negotiate in good faith from the beginning and we tried to do that,” said Martelle. “I think that ultimately in regards to public safety this is a good contract, it’s a good contract I think in regards to the finances of the city and for our membership.”
Firefighters previously cast the city’s desired savings goals as possibly detrimental to the public safety of the city.
“I look forward to seven years of not having to do this,” added Martelle of the contract, which expires in 2023.
The agreement passed the city council by a 5-to-1 vote, with the dissenting vote cast by fifth-ward Councilman Jay Zarelli. Nevertheless, King said the agreement was a step forward for the city and the department.
King said negotiating a new contract with an eye toward savings has been on his mind since he took office seven years ago. He added that while he’s taken criticism for not having already reached a new deal, he would rather the city take its time and negotiate the right deal than rush into an agreement.
“This feels like a victory for the taxpayers and the residents and business owners of the city,” said King.
He thanked the council, finance commissioner Tammie Weiterschan, the city’s labor attorney Bryan Goldberger, Martelle and the fire department for agreeing to the new contract.
“Even though there were times when we might not have liked each other through the process, we stayed true to do the city’s work and maintain the level of service that we have,” said King in thanking Martelle and firefighters.
The agreement reduces minimum staffing levels from seven firefighters per shift to five. Normal staffing will remain at seven firefighters per shift, but the new agreement means two firefighters can call out before a supervisor calls for another firefighter to work the shift.
Under the former contract, which has been rolled over every year since it expired in 2013, replacement firefighters had to be called in for any shift that dipped under seven firefighters. These replacement firefighters would be paid time-and-a-half for working the shift, and that minimum staffing structure was a major factor in what King described as salary bloat within the department.
The new agreement also incentivizes senior firefighters to retire and requires new firefighters to increase their contributions to health-care costs. The department agreed to no retroactive pay increases since 2013, and there are raises of 2 percent for the next three years and 2.25 percent for three years after that.
The new contract will save the city $918,000 through 2023, according to figures supplied by the city. King’s initial savings goal in January was $300,000 per year, or $1.2 million over four years. The council went into executive session for an hour at Tuesday night’s meeting before emerging with an approval on the new agreement, and King and other city officials were unavailable to answer questions late Tuesday.
King said earlier in the day that he sees the contract as saving roughly $2 million when taking into account the possible cost of arbitrating the contract.
King and the council had previously threatened to put the matter to a November ballot question if the department could not come up with a package of cuts deemed viable by city officials. The ballot question, if approved, would have converted the fire department to a hybrid volunteer-career department. The department currently has 28 full-time firefighters.
Local 719 requested in March that the state’s Public Employee Relation Board intervene in the negotiations, which were going nowhere at the time. Firefighters had previously proffered a deal they said would meet the city’s target of saving $1.2 million over four years, but it was rejected by King and the council because, said King, the savings would only be realized if certain members voluntarily retired.
King said the new labor contract is possibly the longest public labor contract negotiated in Gloversville.