Fire unions accept comp time


The Town of Kearny has averted a pending crisis arising from depleting the overtime account for the Fire Department.

And there will be no closing of fire companies or reductions of firefighting staff, as initially feared.

Instead, under a side agreement to the existing contracts of Fireman’s Mutual Benevolent Association Local 18 and Kearny Fire Superior Officers Association Local 218, “overtime earned between Sept. 9, 2015, [and] Nov. 28, 2015, will be paid out as compensatory time.”

In 2016, union members “will be afforded the option to utilize their accrued compensatory as time off or may request a cash payment” and that payment will be made “… at the member’s overtime rate on the date that the compensatory time was earned.”

Union members who opt for cash payouts “… shall receive their payment no later than the last payroll in June 2016.”

One exception noted by the agreement is that if members are “recalled to work overtime … in the event of a structural fire or other fire emergency as declared by the chief” between Sept. 9 and Nov. 28, 2015, they “… will be paid in cash rather than compensatory time.”

Under the agreement, members may take comp time in “4-hour, 10-hour, 14-hour or 24-hour increments.”

After a series of weekend phone calls back and forth between town representatives and union leaders, a tentative deal was worked out. The town governing body approved terms of the agreement after a closed session that followed its public session last Tuesday.

Memberships of both union locals, who were kept updated on developments electronically, voted to ratify the proposed Memorandum of Agreement during the Labor Day holiday last Monday.

The agreement was then signed on Wednesday by Town Administrator Michael Martello, Local 18 President Michael McCurrie and Local 218 President Kevin Donnelly.

Mayor Alberto Santos said the town exceeded the approximately $900,000 it had budgeted for Fire Department overtime in August, “so we’ll use savings from ‘breakage’ [savings realized through replacement of retiring veteran firefighters with rookies] to cover that [O.T.] cost.

“But anything accrued from this year will be made up via compensatory time next year,” the mayor said. “We’ll have over 20 new firefighters working next year – and since we know that 70% of this year’s overtime was generated by rank-and-file firefighters – with our new firefighters online, overtime should be substantially less. Those new firefighters will be allocated to regular shifts which will now have additional coverage.”

Local 18, which represents rank-and-file firefighters, approved the deal by a narrow margin, 24 to 18, with two members not voting, according to McCurrie, who attributed the close vote to bad memories from the last time the union had agreed to take comp time as an economy move pitched by the town during 2010-2011.

“It didn’t go well,” he said. “That’s why a lot of our guys were reluctant to go into a similar agreement now. What was happening was that guys were coming to work, we’d have enough for a full crew, and the chief would say to a guy, ‘You go home and use your comp time.’ ’’

Under the newly signed agreement, however, that cannot happen. During 2016, the MOA says, “The unions will cooperate with the town to ensure that the usage of compensatory time is consistent with the efficient operation of the Fire Department [and] the chief … shall not order firefighters to return home from work for the purpose of using compensatory time.”

Kevin Donnelly, president of the KFSOA, which bargains for the department’s 27 fire captains, declined to provide his local’s vote tally but said it was “overwhelmingly” in favor of the proposal.

“We worked with the town,” he said. “Our members approved what we went with. We’re glad to have reached an agreement that will provide for safety of our members and our residents. No one wants an engine closed or taken out of service.”

Town Council President Carol Jean Doyle characterized the agreement as “the best arrangement we could come up with. Both sides worked really hard to come to this agreement. Bottom line, we didn’t have to close any fire houses and the town and our residents come out in front. This represents good government at its best.”

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