City officials blast state reps on firefighter overtime legislation

City officials blast state reps on firefighter overtime legislation

WOONSOCKET – Two bills making their way through the General Assembly that would mandate a 42-hour average work week for firefighters drew a sharp response this week from city officials who say the legislation would take away the city’s ability to handle its own negotiations with unions.

During a City Council meeting Monday, Councilor James Cournoyer criticized the city’s House delegation, including Rep. Michael Morin, Rep. Stephen Casey and Rep. Robert Phillips, for voting in favor of the bills during a vote on April 9. The bills, he argued, would take away the city’s rights to manage its own contracts, effectively tying the hands of local officials.

“I think their actions were wrong on so many levels. I like all these people individually, they’re good folks, but I don’t think they served the city last week,” he said.

The bills, which passed the House by a 62-9 vote, would require cities and towns to pay overtime to firefighters working beyond 42 hours in an average week. Federal law currently requires overtime pay to firefighters working beyond 53 hours per week. The bills are supported by local firefighter union, which argues that the change promotes fairness in pay.

While the bills would not immediately impact Woonsocket, which currently uses a 42-hour average work week schedule, councilors argued the legislation could restrict negotiations on future contracts and prevent the city from moving from a four to a three-platoon system in the future.

“It is not affected by the new law, but the new law makes negotiating for a three platoon system unaffordable, and therefore out of the question in negotiations,” said Councilor John Ward.

Morin defended the legislation, telling The Valley Breeze this week the bills were about creating open and honest negotiations that protect employees.

“Forcing people to work 56 hours a week is not open and honest negotiations,” he said. “The employees of the city of Woonsocket are some of the lowest paid by comparison to every other city and town. It’s not always the employee’s fault in the city.”

Morin, a former Woonsocket firefighter of 31 years and former president of Woonsocket Firefighters Local 732, said he did not believe the legislation took sway the city’s ability to negotiate contracts and contracts must be negotiated in good faith.

“That’s absolutely false. They’re putting out misinformation to the people,” he said regarding councilors’ comments. “It’s almost like they’re distracting the people from their inability to govern.”

Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt also criticized the legislation, telling The Breeze she believes union negotiations belong between the union and municipality and these bills take that away from the city.

“I was disappointed that our legislators supported that. It really goes deeper than I think what meets the eye,” she said.

The two bills, one of which removes the exemption for firefighters in state overtime law and the other requiring overtime after 42 hours in an average week, now move to the Senate for consideration. Gov. Gina Raimondo has not said whether she’d sign the bills if they came to her desk, saying she’d confer with municipal leaders on the issue.

Comments

There is no misinformation.

These bills simply interfere with local matters - with respect to both management rights and issues that should clearly be left to the local municipalities to negotiate with their employees.

Pay, benefits, work schedules, etc. should not be legislated by people in Providence. Rather, these matters should be determined and decided at the local level where the impact of such decisions are actually realized.

Firefighter work schedules should not be naively compared to traditional jobs wherein an employee works 5 days a week, 8 hours a day. FFs, for a variety of reasons, have unique work schedules that, for example in Woonsocket have them working 24 hours On, 24 hours Off, 24 hours On, followed by 5 full days off.

Moreover, unlike a traditional job, they have the ability to trade days with fellow employees which results in opportunities for both significant overtime and days off. It is precisely due to the uniqueness of FF's schedules that the Department of Labor and the Fair Labor Standards Act requires overtime to be paid only after 53 hours.

Meddling in local affairs by people in Providence is what causes communities like Woonsocket to end up with Budget Commissions.

Regarding the comment that someone is "Forcing people to work 56 hours" --- that is nonsense. Nobody is "forced" to do anything. Last I checked, we live in a free country. If an employee, whether it be a FF, a painter, a carpenter, a plumber, a lawyer, a roofer, a banker, etc., is not happy with what their employer can afford to pay them or they are not happy with the work schedule that is required by the their employer, they are FREE to seek employment elsewhere. They are free to go start their own business and do it their way. Again, nobody is FORCED to do anything.

Do the many FFs accross the State who, due to their unique work-schedules that accommodates them maintaining second jobs/businesses as carpenters, plumbers, electricians, painters, landscapers, realtors, etc. allow their employees to dictate their work schedules? Do these FFs provide their employees the same pay & benefits that the FFs demand of their employers?

Lastly, this legislation had near unanimous opposition at the local level accross the state by the local officials that are on the front lines trying to keep their communities affordable, solvent and safe, yet Woonsocket's local Reps did not have the respect or decency to sit down and meet with local officials to discuss and review this legislation prior to supporting and voting for it. That is disappointing and is no way to "represent" a community.

The councilor's comments show exactly why firefighters and cops leave the city to work elsewhere. Talk about not appreciating the hard work and talented members of our public service. Yes, they don't work 8 hrs a day, five days a week. Their schedules are like no other. Mr Cournoyer doesn't get or is ignoring the fact that these guys get frequently held over their shifts, so the dept can adequately cover all of the trucks that cover the city. So guys at WFD, I feel for you, but attitudes like this is awful. Take Mr. Cournoyer's advice. Leave the city and go work for city that pays you better and treats you better. Mr. Cournoyer can cover the trucks himself.

Mr Cournoyer makes a lot of sense....the city mgt wants to keep it at city mgt level. But another poster points this out..."these guys get frequently held over their shifts, so the dept can adequately cover all of the trucks that cover the city"....which to me screams of inadequate staffing/mgt issues at the local level. So maybe that's a reason Providence wants to "meddle"?? And let's face it, when there is "meddling" and it results in GOOD, we are OK with that, and accept it....but when "meddling" seems to not be in one's best interests, we tend not to like the "meddling", and label it as unacceptable. Hopefully as Mr Cournoyer well puts it, a sit-down and discussion could iron out all the facts and a welcoming solution is embraced by all. These are ppl's livelihood here, invested for years in their careers. Best wishes.

RIDevil (BTW, that's a strange name),

I don't have a clue what you are referring to with regard to "not appreciating the hard work and talented members of our public service". Where and when did anyone say that?

If you are referring to the fact that I pointed out that, contrary to the false assertion made by one of our reps that people are "forced to work", sorry if you have a problem with reality and truth, as it is indeed a fact that NOBODY is rounded up at the point of a gun and forced to work. If your landscaper doesn't like what you are willing to pay him to cut your lawn, he can pick up his tools and leave.

You miss the point entirely - this is about two simple issues: (1) people in Providence interfering in matters that should be dealt with at the local level and (2) Representatives supporting and voting on bills that have a direct impact on local municipal affairs without having the decency and respect to first have a conversation with the local officials who are on the front lines of keeping their communities safe, affordable and solvent. The Reps who passed this garbage are not the ones who ultimately have to sign local contracts. They are not the ones who have to send out the tax bill. Before they meddle in local affairs and before they make changes to matters that are already addressed by the Department of Labor and the FAIR Labor Standards Act, they should have consulted with local officials. Its not complicated.

Regarding your comment that "firefighters and cops leave the city to work elsewhere", what is your point? Every profession and every employer experiences turn-over. So what? And by the way, one of the Reps that supported this bad bill worked for the City for 31 years before recently retiring - so I'm not sure that supports your assertion. Also, the City had approximately 120 applicants that recently applied for a handful of openings on the the FD. For a City that you suggest doesn't appreciate it's employees and apparently doesn't provide fair pay and benefits, that's an awful lot of interest. And, yes, I know - none of the applicants are qualified to do the job, right?

Lastly, since you seem to be so very knowledgeable, would you please answer my two questions that were included in my original post? As a reminder, they were as follows: Do the many FFs across the State who, due to their unique work-schedules that accommodates them maintaining second jobs/businesses as carpenters, plumbers, electricians, painters, landscapers, realtors, etc. allow their employees to dictate their work schedules? Do these FFs provide their employees the same pay & benefits that the FFs demand of their employers?