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Firefighters Union and Watertown Headed to Mediation

Wednesday, June, 10, 2020

Mediation is scheduled June 11th for the city of Watertown and its firefighters’ union to discuss what comes next in their labor negotiations.


According to the director of the conciliation with the Public Employment Relation Board in Albany, William Conley, the initial meeting will be held via videoconference.  The second meeting, also scheduled in June, will be face-to-face.


The city expressed it did not want to meet via videoconference after working hard on a proposed budget for the existing financial crisis it faces due to COVID-19. The city manager of Watertown called on Conley to determine if additional mediation sessions would benefit labor talks after a meeting in February that went nowhere.


At the end of the month, the union met with negotiators for the first time in four years regarding labor contracts. Neither side was willing to compromise regarding minimum manning, and both sides declared an impasse at the end of that initial meeting.


According to the city, the stipulation that there always be 15 firefighters on duty at a time was still needed to be negotiated, but the union claimed it was non-negotiable. It was the same issue that stalled talks in the ongoing six-year labor dispute which made it to the state’s highest court. The union won.


The legal battles had come to a close until January when a new mayor and new councilmember came into office after the election. The mayor had long criticized both the union and minimum manning. The relationship between the firefighters’ union and the city continues to worsen. The problems escalated further most recently after the mayor proposed limiting the number of 911 calls the fire department responds to when an ambulance is needed.