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Firefighters unhappy about same arbitrator

A judge who rejected Buffalo firefighter complaints of bias against arbitrator Thomas Renaldo Thursday returned the pay dispute to Renaldo for further arbitration sessions over the objection of fire union attorneys.

State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek last January ordered new arbitration proceedings and ruled after a recent evidentiary hearing that he found no evidence of bias in Renaldo's handling of the dispute.

Fire union attorneys J. Gregory Hoelscher and Tracy Dale Sammarco, who objected to the 66-page decision Thursday, said they will appeal Michalek's decision to send the pay dispute back before Renaldo rather than having it considered by another court-approved arbitrator.

Last Jan. 12 Michalek vacated a decision by Renaldo calling for 2.1 percent raises for firefighters dating from July 2002 and 3.4 percent raises retroactive to July 2003, bringing the average firefighter about $3,000 in retroactive raises -- an amount below current city police pay levels.

Thursday Hoelscher complained to the judge about what he described as Renaldo's alleged "mind set" against the fire union and the "ongoing" dispute between the fire union and Renaldo over his arbitration fees.

Hoelscher told the judge that though Michalek had found no evidence of actual bias by the arbitrator against the firefighters union there "still exists an appearance of bias" which makes it inappropriate for Renaldo to be delegated to handle the new round of arbitration on the wage issue.

Renaldo could not be reached for comment on Hoelscher's courtroom claims.

e-mail: mgryta@buffnews.com

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