24-Hour Shift For Firefighters Passes 3-2

Effective March 1, firefighters will work 24-hour shifts.

Residents, firefighters and their families took to the microphone for 40 minutes Monday night, pleading their case against 24-hour-long shifts for the North Kingstown Fire Department. In the end, the North Kingstown Town Council narrowly approved the change to town law with a 3-2 vote – Democrats Michael Bestwick and Charles Brennan opposing.

The measure reduces the t from four platoons to three and moves firefighters from working 10- and 14-hour shifts to 24-hour shifts. The new shift changes will result in 56-hour work weeks and add 14 hours to firefighters’ weekly schedule. Originally, the town offered no compensation for these additional hours but modifications to the ordinance now include a 10 percent increase to annual pay.

“We have constructed a structure which is financially unsound and unsustainable,” said Council Member Charles Stamm, who spoke of the impacts dwindling state aid and increasing expenses have had on the town’s budget. “This proposal gives us an opportunity for significant savings going ahead.”

According to the town, North Kingstown lost $2.1 million in state aid alone for this year and anticipates spending upwards of $721,000 from its general fund balance to level this year’s budget. For next year’s budget, .

The language in the amended ordinance claims the town can save $1.2 million in savings in the first year the new shift structure is implemented. The ordinance also says that “the same savings, efficiencies and level of protection to the town” could only be attained if the fire department switches from all-professional to a volunteer department with call persons and private contractors.

Members of the North Kingstown Fire Department argued that the burden of balancing the town’s budget should not fall upon the backs of its firefighters and their families. Under the new shift structure, firefighters will work a 24-hour shift (10-hour on-duty day shift followed by a 14-hour on-duty night tour) followed by 48 hours off.

“This mandated 56-hour work week will not only affect 64 firefighters,” said Justin Puckett, member of the North Kingstown Fire Department. “This will leave 90 or so kids wishing they had more time with dad.”

According to Town Council Member Carol Hueston, the town and Lcoal 1651 have met multiple times since October to hammer out a contract. In the latest meeting, the town offered the department a 20 percent salary increase and 20 percent pension increase for the 24-hour shifts, along with 17 full weekends off each year and at least one weekend day off each week. The union, Hueston says, rejected the offer.

The changes will take effect March 1 of this year as the town and fire union – Local 1651 – continue arbitration for the second year in a row. Last year, the town’s proposal to switch the fire department to the 24-hour shift .

According to Union President Ray Furtado, this move by the council circumvents the collective bargaining process and violates state law. The union filed an unfair labor charge with the state back in December, Furtado says. Though Furtado says the union is “willing to negotiate” with the town, the battle may very well be on its way to court.

“If you continue down this path of recklessness you’re going to leave us no alternative but to fight this until the last breath is taken,” said Furtado during Monday night’s public hearing.

The town is already embroiled in a legal battle with the North Kingstown School Department over a possible $1.2 million revenue shortfall in the school department. Attorney Dan Kinder, a labor lawyer, is arguing the case for the town and, according to figures from one North Kingstown resident, has racked up substantial billable hours with the town.

Chris Demers, a resident of Old Baptist Road, presented the council with a handout showing that the Town of North Kingstown has made $1.1 million in payments to Kinder and his associates. Demers urged the town to not spend more taxpayers’ money on labor lawyers.

“It greatly disturbs me that this council won’t think twice about paying the lawyers for hours billed but cries poverty when it come time to paying its own employees,” said Demers during public comment. “Instead, you aim to balance your mismanaged budget on the backs of working families.”

“The damages of this if awarded after legal fees will leave a crater where the undesignated fund balance is right now,” said Furtado.

Mike February 06, 2012 at 05:06 PM
Actually, I wouldn't file a lawsuit. I'd think that having a job in this econonmy, a good job that doesn't require a college degree is a greqt opportunity, especially as I'd have to work ~10 days a month, have enough time off to work another job, and still retire in 20 years and start another career. Then I'd be thankful for the opportunity to live in a town that appreciates my service at a rate it can afford.
I'm Tired of the Games February 06, 2012 at 05:27 PM
In other words you think it is ok for a boss to force you to work more hours while taking money out of your pocket no matter what. Where would YOU draw the line? Yeah, the TC really appreciates their service (sounds like a WC Fields "hardy handclasp"). That is why they would rather give money to lawyers than employees or work things out locally. That appreciation will not get you through the checkout at Dave's Marketplace or pay the utilities. The laws are still on the books. Perhaps the next TC move will be to vote to leave Rhode Island and become a municipality in Idaho. Makes as much sense as their current illegal actions.
Mike February 06, 2012 at 05:44 PM
No, I think what I said above--I'd be gtrateful to have a good paying job in this economy. As for forcing someone to do a job, I'll say it again--you don't have to do it. No one can make you do something you do not want to do. If you do not like what is offerred, get a different job. Please see the attached link for Providence fire-fighter pensions. http://www.wpri.com/generic/news/local_news/providence/providence-financial-crisis-top-pensions
I'm Tired of the Games February 07, 2012 at 01:26 AM
Mike: You want these people to just quit when the law is behind them? Not too realistic. Also, it isn't just a paycheck for these people other than maybe a couple. Your link to Providence doesn't apply to North Kingstown. NK is in the State MERS pension system which was changed significantly by Raimondo and the General Assembly. So all the political deals with unrealistic COLAS in Providence have nothing to do with any argument here.
Mike February 07, 2012 at 01:32 PM
Actually they do--you just don't want to see it. These Providence "professionals" get these bloated, outrageous pensions because it's the law. A law, written by crooked politicians in collusion with public sector unions. The point is that just because it's a law doesn't make it moral or ethical. Get it? Now, tell me agaiin why a group that provides a service, legally empowered by crooked politicians, has the moral or ethical right to tell said town what hours it will work and how much it should be paid. Frankly, the similarity to the old protection racket the mob uses is striking. "Hey--NK, this is a tough neighborhood--you all might need some protection. Pay us whatever we want and you'll be ok. Don't, and,well, let's just say bad things might happen...."


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