Labor peace achieved with Harrison firefighters


Members of the Harrison Fire Department have averted both a Newark takeover and a 56-hour work week under a newly concluded union contract renewal.

Last Thursday, Oct. 20, with the state Department of Community Affairs Division of Local Government Services concurring, the Harrison governing body approved a memorandum of agreement with FMBA Local 22 for a new three-year pact.

The old contract expired Dec. 31, 2015.

Implementation of the new pact still hinges on state acceptance and a union membership vote slated for Oct. 28. Local 22 President Eric Hausmann told The Observer he expects his members to go along.

As outlined by the Memorandum of Agreement, signed by Mayor James Fife, on behalf of the town, and by Hausmann, for the union, the new contract:

• Runs, retroactively from Jan. 1, 2016, to Dec. 31, 2018

• Provides no raises for 2016 or 2017 and just 1% for 2018.

• Provides that overtime shall be calculated at time-and-a-half for “emergency recalls for working fires, EMS runs or mutual aid” and on designated holidays: New Year’s Eve and Day, Easter, Memorial Day weekend (Saturday, Sunday, Monday), July 4, Labor Day weekend (Saturday, Sunday, Monday), Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve and Day.

• Provides for “short term” promotions or “acting assignments” to fill vacancies for up to 30 days and “long term” assignments for more than 30 days and sets a “non-pensionable” hourly pay differential for firefighter acting as a lieutenant or for lieutenant acting as captain at $6.44. Only members named to long term acting assignments are eligible for overtime time-and-a-half pay, fixed at the rate of $9.66. (The old contract only allowed overtime for more than 30 days worked in a higher classification.)

• Establishes a two-tier system for existing employees and new hires for how long an employee has to work to attain maximum pay and for longevity pay. New hires must work 12 years to reach maximum pay versus the eight years that existing employees work. Also: new hires will be limited to a total of 6% longevity pay, tacked on to an employee’s base pay after 10, 15 and 20 years of service versus a total of 14% awarded over a period of 24 years for existing employees.    

Exact wording of another contract provision touching on health insurance for retirees and their dependents is still being hammered out, according to Hausmann.

Hausman credited the town with being “always willing to work with us” to achieve a fair deal but said there was pressure exerted by the state Local Government Services representative to push for certain objectives that the union absolutely opposed.

Those were referenced in the MOA which notes that, “the [LGS] advised the town that, as a condition to receipt of aid for 2016, the town had effectively two options for fire services: a takeover by the Newark Fire Department or negotiation of a 56-hour work week with the [union].”

But on Sept. 7, according to the MOA, the LGS apparently modified its position to condition its release of state aid on the town “either negotiating … a contract with Newark to provide firefighting services or a collectively bargained agreement with the [union] that will achieve substantially similar cost savings.”

Said Hausmann: “We were extorted by the DCA. They threatened our jobs – flat out.” The implication, he said, was that “if we didn’t take the 56-hour work week, we’d be laid off and replaced by Newark, although we were never presented anything on paper giving details of such a plan.”

In the end, Hausmann said, “the town accepted our offer and the state finally said, ‘yes.’ But for three months, our members had to go to bed with nightmares about whether they’d be able to keep their jobs.”

Hausmann credited the town with being “always willing to work with us” to achieve a settlement.

It may be “a terrible deal” for the union, Hausmann said, “but it saves our jobs and we’re alive to fight another day. We’re relieved the state is out of here.”

Learn more about the writer ...