Other shoe has yet to drop in Lockport Fire Department case - The Buffalo News
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Other shoe has yet to drop in Lockport Fire Department case

LOCKPORT – The city has not yet reduced Fire Department staffing and equipment levels, even though a judge ruled last week that it could do so.

“It is urgent, but we have to do it right,” Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said.

She said a joint meeting of the Common Council and the Fire Board, scrubbed in May after the firefighters’ union temporarily blocked the cutbacks, will be held to make decisions about what to do.

An affidavit Fire Chief Thomas J. Passuite submitted to State Supreme Court Justice Ralph A. Boniello III in response to the union lawsuit said he expected the city to abolish the department’s ambulance service if it won the case. McCaffrey declined to comment on that possibility.

“Now that the temporary restraining order has been lifted, we will be establishing implementation plans to make adjustments to our ambulance service and staffing in an effort to decrease unbudgeted overtime costs,” McCaffrey said. “In addition, we need to ensure that the plans are in place for the safe and efficient delivery of ambulance services in the city.”

Boniello ruled last week that the city was allowed to cut staffing levels from nine firefighters to seven per shift, while taking one of its three fire trucks and one of its two ambulances out of service.

Lockport Professional Fire Fighters Association President Kevin W. Pratt told The Buffalo News Friday that the union always thought its chances of stopping the cutbacks were better in a binding arbitration case before the state Public Employment Relations Board.

However, the city filed suit before Boniello, seeking a ruling that would prevent the union from going to arbitration.

Deputy Corporation Counsel David E. Blackley said Monday that the union has filed the arbitration demand, asserting that the reduction violates its contract and an agreement with the union that settled a previous arbitration over minimum manning levels.

Blackley said, “The position of the city was, there’s nothing in the contract that permits arbitration. The city clearly has the authority to set staffing levels.”

The reductions were approved by the Fire Board April 22 and implemented May 1. However, on May 2 Boniello signed a temporary restraining order sought by the union, and the staffing and equipment levels returned to the status quo.

But last week, Boniello scrapped his order, ruling that the union hadn’t shown him that the reductions would produce “irreparable harm” and that the union had little chance of succeeding in a full-blown court hearing.

The judge wrote, “In fact, under the (collective bargaining agreement), the City of Lockport is permitted to adjust staffing levels ‘to account for changes in population, technology, apparatus, or other relevant circumstances.’ Significantly, this provision was agreed to by all parties after a similar dispute over staffing issues arose in 2009.”

McCaffrey said, “We’re pleased that Judge Boniello found merit in the city’s position,” McCaffrey said. “City officials are elected to make staffing decisions.”

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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