City of Watertown stops paying overtime to cover firefighter sick leave

Nov 10, 2017

Watertown will no longer pay overtime costs in the city's fire department that are caused by sick leave, the latest development in the bitter feud between the union and city government.

City Manager Sharon Addison says Watertown paid $650,000 for the fire department's overtime costs last year. It's part of what she calls an excessive use of sick time that she has witnessed for years. So Addison has informed the fire chief that the city will not pay other firefighters overtime to fill in if one or two employees on a given shift are out on sick leave. That violates the union contract which requires that the city pay for each shift to have at least 15 firefighters on duty, but Addison says she is not concerned about any legal ramifications.

"We feel that the current contract is severely restrictive on management’s ability to control staffing," Addison said. "It’s the only department within the city that we cannot control staffing nor control overtime, and this is just a decision we made to make that move to control staffing."

Addison said the city will still pay overtime to ensure there are at least 13 firefighters on any given shift.

Union president Dan Daugherty says this is a problem the city created by continually cutting staff numbers in recent years. According to Daugherty, the number of firefighters has dropped from 82 in 2011 to 71 today.

"The chief and the deputy chief in formulating their budget every year for the past six years have been asking to hire individual personnel because the manpower of the department has been reduced by the city failing to hire new individuals," Daugherty said. 

Addison rejects that argument, saying overtime costs related to sick leave have remained about constant going back to 2014.

Daughtery calls this overtime decision a sign of how vindictive city management is over broken negotiations for a replacement union contract that have dragged on for years. He says the city's move here will only add to the legal paperwork already filed over the contract dispute that's now in arbitration.