Gloversville firefighters ask for mediation

GLOVERSVILLE — The Gloversville Firefighters Association, Local 719, is seeking mediation in its ongoing contract negotiations with the city.

According to a news release sent by the agency, the union has filed with the state Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) seeking mediation following what they say is in impasse with the city.

The union states that in cases where mediation is required or requested, a PERB mediator contacts both parties and arranges a meeting. The PERB representative determines if contract consensus can be reached.

“We believe our offer to the city was fair and in the best interest of public safety, the taxpayers, the city and our members,” Local 719 President Edward Martelle said in the release. “We understand the city’s financial struggles, and we are trying to be part of the solution. We negotiated in good faith and offered many concessions and proposals, including a series of realistic options that would provide taxpayers savings of more than $1 million. We are hopeful that PERB’s involvement will help us achieve a reasonable and responsible solution for all parties in the city of Gloversville.”

The city and the union have been in negotiations since October.

In February, the council rejected a contract they said did not include enough savings, stating that much of the money would come from retirements that may not happen. The city also wanted to see a change in the set up of insurance premiums.

The city would like to see the department get down to a 24-person unit and go to five-person minimum staffing instead of the current seven.

The union countered that there are around a dozen firefighters age 50 or older who could retire in the coming years, which would result in around $300,000 in savings. Additionally, they stated there are no up-front costs to the contract, after removing all stipends and all retroactive pay from the proposal.

The council has discussed the idea of placing a referendum on the November ballot that could change the makeup of the department, including the potential of adding volunteer firefighters. The council has additionally discussed hiring a marketing firm during the lead up to a possible referendum.

The council is considering transferring $50,000 from the contingency fund to pay for a marketing firm to manage referendum issues. The council could vote to seek a request for proposal for the marketing firm during Tuesday’s meeting, which is set for 6 p.m. at city hall.

The city gave a counter offer to the union on Feb. 24, according to a letter dated Feb. 27, from Local 719 President Edward Martelle wrote to Mayor Dayton King.

“I expect this meeting will be a productive one as per your conversation on February 14th saying that your end of February deadline for coming to agreement would be extended,” the letter states.

King said this morning that the city will go through the mediation process with the union, although he said he doesn’t find it to be helpful.

King said that the city is willing to accept a counter offer from the union. King said the mediation letter came soon after the council’s late February offer.

He said the mediation won’t stop any plans for a potential referendum. He said what would stop the referendum would be for the union to agree to reduce the size of the department from 28 to 24 and switching the health insurance set up that currently sees increases in premium costs only when firefighters get a raise. King wants firefighters to pay more as premiums increase, regardless of whether they get a raise.

“We’ll certainly go through the process. We prefer to settle it and have savings for our citizens and provide good fire response,” King said. “I would say if we don’t come to a conclusion regardless of what happens in mediation, we’ll still go to a referendum.”

King said the council expects to hold an executive session following Tuesday’s meeting to discuss the contract.

“I’m always open to meet with the firefighters, and give them a proposal,” King said. “We are open to have them give us something back.”

Kerry Minor can be reached at [email protected]

By Chad Fleck

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