Lockport union says devices violate contract
By Thomas Prohaska | News Niagara Reporter | @ThomasProhaska | Google+
on April 13, 2014 – 6:54 PM
LOCKPORT – The City of Lockport and its firefighters’ union, which have had a prickly relationship for months, now are at odds over who should be able to use garage door openers to let the trucks in and out.
The union has filed a grievance over the installation of garage door openers in all Fire Department vehicles, claiming that the rules surrounding the openers violate their contract.
The city went to court Friday to seek a ruling that the Lockport Professional Fire Fighters Association’s rejected grievance can’t be taken to state arbitration.
The court paperwork the city filed over the signature of Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey sought to paint as ridiculous the dispute over how and by whom the overhead doors to the firehouse are to be opened.
“It is utterly incomprehensible to the reasonable taxpayer and the city as to why Local 963 has chosen to waste valuable city resources and thousands of dollars in potential arbitration fees, resources and time in defending this,” the mayor wrote.
But the latest squabble may be a symptom of the continuing poor relations between the city and the union.
“At this point, nothing’s changed from the previous mayor,” union President Kevin W. Pratt said. “We’re still waiting for a call from them to go back to the bargaining table.”
All five city union contracts ran out at the end of 2012, and only the police union has reached a new agreement with the city.
Deputy Corporation Counsel David E. Blackley, who handles the city’s labor litigation, is using the same tactic he used in the lawsuit over the union’s objections to changes the city made in eligibility rules for promotion to fire chief, a case that was heard but not settled by Kloch on Thursday.
The tactic is asking a judge to bar the union from referring the matter to the state Public Employment Relations Board.
Pratt said, “This appeal is a new thing to Dave Blackley. He’s found it a good way to avoid the inevitable, which is going back to the bargaining table.”
The job of opening the overhead doors at the firehouse to let the vehicles in and out used to belong to the Fire Department’s dispatchers. But in May 2010, the city transferred those dispatching duties to the Police Department and installed a remote-control garage door opener at the police desk. Firefighters could still open the doors themselves with a button on the wall inside the firehouse.
In December, the city took the step of placing garage door openers inside all fire vehicles, like the ones many drivers have inside their cars. Fire Chief Thomas J. Passuite issued official guidelines detailing use.
“It has to do with breaking the contract,” Pratt said. He said the union objects to taking work away from the police. “It’s their work, and we don’t think it comes back to us,” he said.
He said the rules on door opener use and disciplinary provisions improperly supplement the union’s agreement with the city dating back to the transfer of dispatch work to the police.
McCaffrey’s document said, “Essentially, Local 963 is objecting to the option, provided for and installed at city expense, of using one of the fingers of a firefighter to press down on a button located on the remote control device within the cab of every fire apparatus in order to open the overhead doors of the Fire Department, all for the convenience of firefighters.”