FULTON, NY – Labor agreement negotiations between the city of Fulton and the International Association of Fire Fighters, the union representing the city’s firefighters, have remained at a standstill.
The pair has been negotiating since a three year contract between the two expired at the end of 2014, with their failed efforts resulting in both parties declaring an impasse.
Both sides then jointly petitioned the Public Employment Relations Board to seek a mediator to which further negotiation attempts were held to no avail.
Fulton Mayor Ronald Woodward Sr. said the next step is to enter into interest arbitration, scheduled to begin in late June.
According to the NYS PERB website, a three-person arbitration panel may hold hearings, take written and oral testimony and other evidence, refer an issue back to the parties for further negotiation upon joint request of the panel members representing the parties, and ultimately, by majority vote, the panel will make a determination and award which is final and binding on the parties.
The arbitration panel will be made up of one member appointed by the city, one member appointed by the IAFF, and one public member jointly agreed upon to serve as chairperson.
The panel will then rule a contract not to exceed a length of two years.
The process of interest arbitration could end up costing between $50,000 and $60,000 upon completion, according to Woodward.
Although Mayor Woodward has not entered into interest arbitration with the IAFF at any time during his term, the city and the IAFF have entered into interest arbitration in the past.
“The only difference is that before, the city wasn’t deemed to be fiscally stressed like they are now,” Woodward said.
According to the office of the state comptroller, the city of Fulton was categorized for the fiscal year ending in 2015 as a city in moderate fiscal distress.
For city officials, the main issue that prolonged an agreement resolution was that of minimum staffing, Mayor Woodward said.
“Mainly our issue was staffing levels. And that does not mean eliminating firefighting positions, just to reduce the minimum staffing levels. That’s what generates overtime, that’s the dollars,” he said.
He explained that the minimum staffing for the department had been in effect since 1988, requiring that at least eight fire fighters are on duty at any given time.
The city firefighters work 24-hour shifts and while Woodward said he would hesitate to get rid of minimum staffing altogether, he proposed to drop the minimum staffing level to seven firefighters rather than the current eight.
“There’s a few other things, but that’s the main issue,” he said.
Ryan Maxam, president of the IAFF Local 3063 said the association does not have a comment about arbitration at this time.