Sides hail money-saving fire contract; total savings unclear

Sides hail money-saving fire contract; total savings unclear

CUMBERLAND – Firefighters and the commissioners who run the Cumberland Fire District agree that a new three-year contract will help save the department from financial ruin.

The contract, signed in May but not released to The Valley Breeze until September, represents nearly $800,000 in savings to the district over two years, said Lt. Brian Bernardo, president of the Cumberland Firefighters Local 2722. He said “this was done in an effort to save jobs and to prevent the district from failing.”

Fire Board Chairwoman Cynthia Ouellette said that’s not an overstatement by Bernardo, adding that she and other members were happy to work together with firefighters on a contract that achieved savings.

“Yes, it prevents the district from failing,” she said. “We were willing to work together to prevent the district from failing.”

She said she was impressed with the sacrifices made by the union members, saying it was “a pretty big give on their part.”

On the projected savings of $800,000, Ouellette said she’s no longer sure that $800,000 figure will be achieved. The district now needs to hire two new firefighters after a pair of resignations, so the department is again facing issues with costly overtime pay due to others having to fill in, she said. It remains to be seen how quickly those new firefighters can be hired, she said.

Ouellette said she was particularly impressed with how the fire union agreed to a zero percent raise this year, as well as how members agreed to a two-man rotation on the ladder truck, allowing a third person to fill in when overtime work is needed.

The contract provided to The Breeze shows firefighters will receive a 2 percent raise in year two of the contract and another 2 percent in year three. Ouellette noted that the health care contribution will increase. A percentage contribution goes from 16 percent this year, to 17 percent next year, then 18 percent in year three.

Bernardo said this finalized negotiated contract was also offered to the district 18 months ago when recently retired Chief Ken Finlay approached the union and advised members of the dire financial situation the district was in. Finlay subsequently denied the offer without the full board knowing the details, he said.

“Fast-forward to January of this year when negotiations began, the financial situation appeared to be worsening,” he said. “The membership of Local 2722 felt that we needed to do something to save jobs and the district from what appeared to be certain failure. Keep in mind this is our livelihoods, no one wants to see this fail.”

The total savings to the district was more than needed to accomplish this, he said, so firefighters were able to obtain raises in salary and longevity in years two and three. They also agreed at the request of the district to drop one deputy chief upon the next retirement of one of the three current deputies but create a fire inspector position seen as vital to the operation of the district.

“Currently, that division is behind and has been since the merge of the fire districts,” he said.

In every contract, said Ouellette, both parties have to give something.

“For this contract, we didn’t have a lot to give,” she said.

Not every firefighter or board member was happy with the final outcome, she said, but “to me it’s workable, and we’re hoping our expectations are fulfilled.”

This is ultimately the contract the district wanted and she’s happy the sides came to terms on a pact that works, she said.