Board OKs contract for firefighters

NASHUA – Passing the firefighters five-year contract is the first step. The tougher nut to crack might be figuring out how to fund a $650,000 shortfall.

The board of aldermen Tuesday passed the firefighters contract by an 8-6 vote. Ward 5 Alderman Michael Tabacsko was away on a business trip.

Afterward, Tim Soucy, an official with firefighters Local 789, shook hands and exchanged hugs with many of the approximately 60 firefighters who attended the meeting.

“I’m happy. I think we still have some work to do,” Soucy said.

The contract was brought to the board last month, referred to the budget review committee in an attempt to nail down the pact’s cost and came back with the committee’s recommendation by a 4-3 vote.

Although $1.244 million was set aside to cover the contract’s cost, the fire department was left with the shortfall. Covering the shortfall out of the city’s unanticipated fund balance would require approval by 10 of the 15 aldermen.

If the aldermen didn’t pass the supplemental appropriation, fire department officials would have to make up the difference in the department’s budget.Paul Garant, the fire commission chairman, said that would require “draconian action.”

Alderman-at-Large Fred Teeboom said by his calculations, about 10 firefighters would have to be laid off in order to cover the contract’s cost in the fire department budget.

“This contract has been a long road for everybody,” Alderman-at-Large Benjamin Clemons said.

The contract provides “fair wages” to firefighters who risk their lives to protect the citizens of Nashua, Clemons said.

“It’s not an easy task to attract quality employees like this to our city. It’s even harder sometimes to keep them,” he said.

“The shortfall busts the spending cap,” Teeboom said. He called the contract too costly and proposed an amendment that would leave the firefighters cost-of-living increases but delete step increases.

His amendment failed by an 11-3 vote.

Joining Clemons in supporting the contract were Aldermen-at-Large Steve Bolton, Brian McCarthy and Lori Wilshire and ward Aldermen Richard LaRose, Marc Plamondon, Dave MacLaughlin and Jeffery Cox.

Opposing the contract were Teeboom, Alderman-at-Large David Deane and ward Aldermen Mark Cookson, Michael Tamposi Jr., Paul Chasse Jr. and Richard Flynn.

Tabacsko had spoken in support of the contract at budget committee meetings. If he and the other eight aldermen who supported the contract back the supplemental appropriation, that would leave the board one vote shy of the 10 needed.

A resolution for a supplemental appropriation would have to be presented to the board at a future meeting.

Soucy said the union would contact a few of the aldermen who opposed the contract to try to convince them to support the supplemental appropriation.

The contract covers 168 firefighters and extends retroactively from fiscal year 2007 through fiscal year 2011. For those years, it gives firefighters average raises of zero percent, 4.70 percent, 5.68 percent, 5.72 percent and 4.69 percent, respectively.

City firefighters have been working for two years under the terms of an expired contract.

Soucy said the cost-of-living portion of the raises is in line with what other city employees have received in recent contracts. Only 18 firefighters a year for each year of the contract would receive a step increase, he said.

One of the meeting’s more contentious moments occurred when Teeboom said the firefighters, unlike other city employees, get paid for sleeping during shifts at the fire station.

“Something bugs me about this particular union,” Teeboom said.

He said he was bothered to hear firefighters say they put their lives on the line for the city when other workers do the same.

“Police put their lives on the line. Teachers put their lives on the line,” Teeboom said, prompting murmurs and a few catcalls from the firefighters who packed the aldermanic chamber.

Clemons responded that if his house were on fire, he would prefer the firefighters to be sleeping in the station near the fire trucks as opposed to being home in their own beds.