Mayor James C. Galie said Tuesday he has hired Buffalo lawyer Nicholas J. Sargent to handle contract negotiations with the city's two fire unions.
Galie said Sargent, who has represented a number of local municipalities and school districts, has expertise in labor negotiations. The mayor said Sargent would be paid on an hourly basis, but he didn't know what the rate would be. He said Sargent's fees would be taken from funds for consultants in the Personnel Department's budget.
Galie said he has not signed a contract with Sargent and his position is that he does not need City Council approval to hire Sargent. Under the City Charter, the Council has the authority to ratify contracts.
In particular, Galie said, he hired Sargent to negotiate the issue of shift schedules with the fire unions. Galie said his administration is seeking a change in the current 10 or 14-hour shifts to eight-hour, five-day weeks.
Stefan G. Kundl, president of the Fire Officers Association, said currently firefighters work four 10-hour days, are off four days, work four 14-hour nights and are off four days. The firefighters receive no overtime for the routine shifts, but receive 12 compensatory days a year. They have the option of working any or all of the comp days and being paid straight time for them, Kundl said.
"We believe the public would be better served by eight-hour shifts," Galie said. "There is no need to pay anyone while they're sleeping. We'd get more service for the dollars. They'd be more alert and provide better service."
Kundl said fewer than two percent of all fire departments in this country and Canada are on eight-hour schedules. Twenty-four percent have the same schedule as the city and 70 percent work 24 hour days.
"Changing to an eight-hour schedule in no way enhances our ability to provide fire protection. The proposed change is a feeble attempt to camouflage the inadequate manning situation created by Mayor Galie," Kundl said.
The fire unions and Galie have been at odds since Galie tried to reduce the department by 27 positions last year. Firefighters contend the department is undermanned and that the safety of the public and firefighters has been compromised.
Kundl said there are many configurations of eight-hour shifts and he wasn't sure which one the administration wants. He said the union has received at least two different proposals. He said one proposal by Galie's administration to put the Fire Department on the same schedule as the police would result in crews being broken up.
"You'd never work with same guys, it would affect the integrity of the crew and drilling. Some studies indicate that injuries increase," Kundl said.
He said his union filed an improper practice charge with the Public Employees Relations Board on Oct. 24 challenging the administration for trying to bring the eight hour shift and changes to medical coverage into negotiations because they were not in the administration's initial contract proposal.
"I'm surprised they're wasting city dollars on an outside attorney to finagle an eight-hour shift when a 10 and 14-hour shift has worked fine for about 20 years. Don't they have anything better to do with their money. The bottom line is it's just more harassment by the mayor. When Chief (Paul S.) Shanks worked in Buffalo, they worked a 10 and 14-hour shift. They had no problem there," Kundl said.
He said he believed Sargent has been hired to handle all legal issues with both fire unions, including grievances.
Richard L. Horn, president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association Local 714, could not be reached Tuesday evening, but Horn said earlier that his union was scheduled to meet with Sargent today.
Galie said that while Sargent initially would handle negotiations with the fire unions, he may be used for other labor matters in the future. The mayor said the action does not indicate a lack of confidence in Personnel Director David A. Fabrizio.
"I don't believe we have the necessary skill here for certain things. I believe in certain cases it is to the city's advantage to go outside," Galie said.
Galie cited the hiring of outside law firms to handle the appeal of a $1 million verdict against the city in Barbara Capton's police-brutality suit and to defend the city against James Page's lawsuit claiming negligence by the city in a June 3 fire at his automotive business. The hiring of both outside firms is scheduled to go to the Council for approval at its meeting Monday.