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At City Hall, Sparks Fly Over Firefighters' Contract04:35
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The Boston City Council has to decide by next Wednesday whether to fund a raise, awarded by arbitration, for the city’s firefighters.

Early Thursday, at the second of two public hearings, Boston firefighters are again making their case for the raise, though they are also meeting with city officials, potentially over concessions.

But the first council hearing — a ten-hour affair on Wednesday — erupted into discord over the arbitrator's award.
It’s serious when an arbitration ruling — normally viewed as the result of an academic, objective process — remains the source of such discontent.
At the hearing, two members of the arbitration panel — Bob McCarthy, representing the firefighters in negotiations, and Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella, who represented the City of Boston — revealed the rifts in what was supposed to be a secret arbitration process.

Mazzarella told the City Council that during negotiations, at the beginning of Patriots' Day weekend, McCarthy blew up and stormed out when he found out that a proposed agreement did not give firefighters a raise in exchange for agreeing to drug tests.

But by the next morning, Mazzarrella said the independent arbitrator, Dana Eischen, had included a 2.5 percent raise to go into effect on the last day of this month. He accused Eischen and McCarthy of coming to an agreement between the two of them and against the city during the night, and said that made the raise a done deal.

Mazzarella's accusation prompted an angry exchange.

"His statements are false," McCarthy said, arguing that Eischen had planned for negotiations to continue through the weekend, and that no deal had been reached.

"Mr. Eischen had a timetable to the minute. We were to be there at Saturday afternoon. We were gonna have a working dinner," McCarthy said. "We were gonna meet all day Sunday, which he had a social engagement Sunday night and couldn't make the meeting."

Boston firefighters listen to the City Council hearing on their raise Wednesday. (Fred Thys/WBUR)
Boston firefighters listen to the City Council hearing on their raise Wednesday. (Fred Thys/WBUR)

That didn't square with how Mazzarella remembered things.

"No, you were sick," Mazzarella shot back.

"He had a social engagement," McCarthy insisted.

"You were sick," Mazzarella said, not letting it go.

McCarthy took exception to Mazzarella’s remarks. “He’s insulted my integrity. He’s insulted the arbitrator’s... ” McCarthy said, before a gavel silenced him.

It’s serious when an arbitration ruling — normally viewed as the result of an academic, objective process — remains the source of such discontent. But there's no way around the fact that there's a lot on the line for both the city and the firefighters.

If the ruling goes into effect, the city will have to find $4.3 million to fund the 2.5 percent pay increase that would kick in at the end of the month.

Already, the city is laying off 100 librarians. Among the cuts the city is considering to pay for the firefighters' raise is the closing of fire houses, but Wednesday night, Lisa Signori, the city’s director of administration and finance, said Mayor Thomas M. Menino has not decided what cuts he would make to pay for the firefighters’ raise.
If the ruling goes into effect, the city will have to find $4.3 million to fund the 2.5 percent pay increase that would kick in at the end of the month.
Signori also pointed out that within the next few months, 41 of the city's 43 union contracts are up for negotiation, and the city is worried that if they give the firefighters a raise in exchange for taking drug tests, all the other unions will ask for comparable raises.

The City Council has to vote on the decision by June 9. Four of the 13 members say they support the raise, and two have come out against it.

The rest of the council members are undecided or won’t say where they stand.

Should the council vote the decision down, the city and the firefighters will have to go back to negotiating. And until an agreement is reached, the firefighters go on working without a raise. They haven't had a raise in five years now.

Wednesday night, labor leaders warned the council that there would be political consequences if they vote the pay raise down.

This program aired on June 3, 2010.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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