'Clear signaling' of change in feud between Watertown, firefighter union

Feb 26, 2018

The tide may be turning in the long-running feud between the city of Watertown and its local firefighter union. The new city council continues to take steps toward resolving the legal battle has dragged on for nearly four years.

Through a directive from the Watertown City Council and city manager Sharon Addison last fall, the city broke the firefighter union's contract. Watertown opted to stop paying sick leave overtime for up to two firefighters on any given shift, meaning staff levels could fall below the contract's minimum of 15.

Mayor Joe Butler says it has saved Watertown $32,000. So he attempted to expand that policy to any time off for firefighters last week. But this time, he was outvoted by all four councilors.

"I just saw this as possibly a furthering all the litigation going down the road instead of looking for some type of resolution," said Councilor Lisa Ruggiero.

Ruggiero was elected last fall along with Ryan Henry-Wilkinson. Both were endorsed by the firefighter union. Ruggiero says she did not want to expand this policy because it's still being challenged in court, but more than that she thinks it's time to "reevaluate" the direction Watertown is headed and repair the relationship with the fire department.

"I think there’s enough support there now to question some things a little bit more and to possibly avoid any future litigation with the fire department," Ruggiero said.  

Earlier this year, the council voted against renewing Addison's contract as city manager, who has taken a tough stance with the union. 

Union president Dan Daugherty says he thinks the recent actions by the council indicate "a clear signaling that there's change in direction."

"I definitely think that there’s a desire to put this to bed," Daughtery said. "Nobody really wants this hanging out there - the fact that we're out of contract for four years."

But that may be easier said than done. Daugherty says there are still about a dozen grievances working their way through the court system between the city and union.

Butler declined to comment for this story.