Contract Agreement Was Long Time Coming For Police, Fire

Wanting to control the resolution and not spending an additional tens of thousands of dollars for an agreement is why city officials reached a compromise with both the fire and police unions on a new deal.

During the last days of 2013, city of Jamestown officials reached an agreement with the Jamestown Professional Firefighters Association Local 1772 and the Kendall Club Police Benevolent Association on new four-year contracts. The contracts are retroactive to 2012 and will expire at the end of 2015.

Charles DeAngelo of Fessenden, Laumer & DeAngelo is the lawyer for city’s fire and police unions. He said the main reason for the unions to reach a contract agreement was the unsettling feeling of allowing a third party to make the decision.

“It is always better for the parties to settle and not having to ask an arbitrator to make the decision for the parties. In most cases, the arbitrator doesn’t make a decision as good as the parties themselves can make. You don’t know what a third party will do,” he said. “It starts to get addictive, too. Easier to have someone else make the decision, but it is not the right way to go about it.”

After more than two years of negotiations, the new contract was reached. Both unions had been operating under former contracts that expired after 2011. Matt Coon, Jamestown Professional Firefighters Association Local 1772 president, said the fire union membership analyzed the pluses and the minuses of going through arbitration and thought an agreement was the best solution.

“The members evaluated where we were and thought it was in the best interest for both the city and the members to reach an agreement,” he said.

DeAngelo said members in both unions are people in the community. He said they don’t want an unresolved issue that could costs taxpayers money anymore than the rest of the community.

“They have no interest in making it difficult for taxpayers. They are taxpayers too,” he said. “The unions wanted to resolve it, but they wanted to resolve it and get a fair recovery. They needed a fair return for the work they do.”

Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi said the cost of arbitration is the reason the two sides finally reached an agreement. He said the cost would have been $30,000 to $50,000 for the city and the same, if not more, for both the fire and police unions.

“Arbitration is a legal court proceeding with witnesses being called to testify and experts being called to the case. For the city, it would have been $30,000 to $50,000 for the proceedings, and that is with us doing a lot of work with our own staff. If it was going to be $30,000 to $50,000 for us, my guess is it would be more for each of the bargaining units,” Teresi said. “There were things we could do in-house and in-kind that they would have had to hire out for. They would have had to spread the costs out over their bargaining union. Arbitration is a solution, but it is a lengthy, costly and trying solution for both sides.”

Teresi said the implementation of a wellness program for the two unions was an important part of reaching an agreement for city officials. In 2015, both unions will start a wellness program through BlueCross BlueShield. If union members participate in the program, they will pay 17 percent of the heath insurance premium. If they don’t participate, members will pay 22 percent. Through the wellness program, it is projected less money will be spent by members – and taxpayers – if union members are living healthier lives.

“We were digging our cleats in pretty deep for the introduction of the wellness program. We were going to stand on that principle through arbitration, and beyond. We thought it was necessary,” he said. “Everyone who looked at the details saw it was an evident benefit for taxpayers, and the employees and their retiring members. Promoting wellness is good for individuals and also good for the bottom line.”

DeAngelo said whenever two sides cannot agree on a new contract the two main hurdles always will be money and health insurance. He said this case was no different.

“There were extensive negotiations on both issues. There was an intense back and forth. There were numerous proposals, and then counter proposals. Both sides were unwilling to compromise for many months,” he said. “Both sides eventually compromised, even though they were not where they wanted to be. They came to a mutual agreement that both sides could live with.”

As far as future negotiations, Coon is hopeful, following this agreement, both sides will reach a settlement easier next time.

“It is always are hope that the negotiation is smooth for both parties,” he said.

Tom Shea is the president of the Kendall Club Police Benevolent Association.