There were indications at this week’s Select Board meeting that contract negotiations between the Town of Longmeadow and the Firefighters Union are not going very well. During the comments period at the beginning of the meeting, Robert Taylor, president of the local firefighters union read a strongly worded message charging the Town Manager and the Select Board of not acting in good faith during the ongoing collective bargaining process. In support of these comments, there were at least six firefighters and a few members of the Longmeadow Police Dept in attendance.
For those of us who were unaware of some of the issues currently being discussed (collective bargaining meetings are not open to the public), the harsh comments were completely unexpected.
While I am not privy to any confidential collective bargaining information, here is some background information leading up to this public criticism….
- The Longmeadow firefighters are interested in changing their normal hours of employment from 8 hour shifts to 24 hour shifts. Rather than work 8 hour shifts, they are lobbying to consider working 2- 24 hour shifts/ week. The firefighters union will argue that they are entitled to choose their own shift schedule. According to the International Association of Fire Fighters website (http://www.iaff.org/) one possible shift rotation is as follows: (24 hours on/ 48-72 hours off/ 24 hours on).
Correction: According to the recent comments, the Longmeadow Fire Department works two consecutive 10 hour day shifts followed by 2 consecutive 14 hour night shifts. They do not work "8 hour shifts" and the normal work schedule is 48 hours/week.
- The Select Board just announced the following public hearing:
There will be a public forum on October 7 at 7 PM at the Glenbrook Middle School auditorium, regarding a Special Town Meeting Warrant Article. At this forum the Select Board will be seeking public input on the question of public employees working scheduled shifts of greater than 14 hours per day. All employees of the Town of Longmeadow would fall under the auspices of this proposal: DPW Employees, Park Department Employees, Firefighters, EMT/Ambulance Service, Clerical Employees, Police and Teachers.
The proposed STM warrant article reads as follows:
Article ___: To see if the Town will vote to insert the following new provision in the Town Charter:
Section 7-10: Limitation of Hours of Work
No employee of the Town shall be regularly scheduled to work for the Town more than 14 continuous hours in any midnight to midnight 24 hour period.
- There have been arbitration rulings upholding the right of firefighters to select their own shift schedule. It would appear that the Select Board is trying to block the ability of the firefighters union to change to the 24 hour shift schedule by changing the town charter. It is interesting to note that the town charter can be changed with a simple 2/3 vote at the upcoming fall special town meeting.
Why should the Select Board oppose the 24 hour shift change?
- Would you want to have a medical emergency and have the paramedic(s) who responds be in the 23rd hour of a 24 hour shift?
- There are also concerns about the personal safety and health of our firefighters. Medical studies have shown that sleep deprivation can have significant adverse effects on physical health and well-being. In addition, there are job performance issues as well including poorer judgement and reaction times.
- In many cases the reasons for this shift change is a desire to work a second full time job for increased income. It is possible that the responding firefighter or paramedic will have worked many more hours in a week than the current shift schedule allows.
- How do you cover sick leave/ vacation time? Are additional personnel or reduced staffing likely to be needed? What is the impact on the fire department budget
The above are only a couple of reasons why the Select Board should consider a change in the Town Charter to block this change to a 24 hour shift schedule.
For additional information and commentary read The Slow Death of the 24-Hour Tour that was posted on Mu+ual Aid- a fire chief blog.
I would encourage everyone to consider attending the Public Forum on October 7 to provide feedback to the Select Board and to attend the Special Town Meeting on October 27 to pass the warrant article changing the town charter.