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Independent Economist Will Review Firefighter Pay Raise

BOSTON — Boston City Council has enlisted a MIT economist to review an arbitrator’s decision to give Boston firefighters a 19 percent pay raise — a decision that one member of the arbitration panel called criminal.

City officials said the raise would cost Boston $74 million, while the arbitrator, Dana Eischen, estimated the cost would be $39 million.

Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella, who sat on the arbitration panel, dissented from Eischen’s decision, and has insisted on an explanation of a last minute change Eischen made that increased the award by millions.

“Somebody with subpoena power needs to find out what happened between Sunday and Monday.”

– Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella, on the arbitration process

“Somebody with subpoena power needs to find out what happened between Sunday and Monday,” Mazzarella said. “Something happened. I don’t know what it is. I just know it’s not right. And I know that the taxpayers of the city of Boston will be paying for this forever.”

Eischen defended his decision last week, saying the salary increase compensates firefighters for submitting to “unprecedented” random drug and alcohol testing.

City Council President Michael Ross said the council doesn’t have the power to conduct such an investigation into arbitration.

“His dissenting opinion is not lost on me. I think it’s something we have to consider,” Ross said. “I don’t believe that it’s the City Council who would investigate that matter. We don’t have that purview or that jurisdiction or even that ability.”

Ross said the review by MIT Sloan School of Management Professor Thomas A. Kochan will include Eischen’s decision process.

“I’ve asked Professor Kochan to conduct a thorough review of the award,” Ross said, “what it means to the overall budget, how much the award is and how that award compares to other unions and the awards they’ve received. Through that, he’ll also obviously get to how it was arrived at, and his analysis.”

Kochan has called for a meeting with city officials and and a meeting with firefighters union representatives. It’s not clear whether Kochan will talk to the arbitrator.

After Kochan finishes his review, the city council must vote whether to approve the firefighters’ contract. The council does not have the power to make changes to the proposal.

The U.S. Attorney’s office and the state Attorney General’s office said they could not confirm or deny whether they’re investigating Mazzarella’s complaints.

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