Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

February 20, 2014

Stalled firefighters' contract talks enter mediation with state board

By Dustin Luca
dluca@andovertownsman.com

---- — After almost three years of negotiations, talks between Andover Firefighters Union Local 1658 and the town have gone to mediation.

The two sides have been negotiating a new deal since the firefighters’ last contract expired on June 30, 2011.

Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski said the state’s Joint Labor Management Committee, which municipalities and unions tap for help resolving contracts, has been called in.

Stapczynski declined to discuss the specific issues leading talks to drag on. A representative of the firefighters union couldn’t be reached for comment.

However, time is running out to land a new deal, according to Stapczynski.

“It has to be resolved by June 30, because contracts can’t extend three years unresolved,” he said.

Stapczynski would not elaborate on the consequences that could result if a deal is not reached soon. He did say the only time he recalls a similar situation occurring is about two decades ago with the Police Department.

In that instance, a deal was struck at 3 p.m. on June 30 just as the three-year period was coming to an end.

Robert Oftring Jr., legislative director of the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, said he was not aware of any specific consequences of going beyond the three-year mark with an unresolved contract, suggesting that the time frame is simply a local one.

While negotiations for a firefighters contract continue, the town is set to begin contract talks with three bargaining groups within the Police Department, according to Stapczynski.

Current, three-year contracts with the patrolmen, superiors and dispatchers are due to expire June 30. Those contracts provided for a 5-percent raise over the last three years.

Prior to the current contract, the police unions as well as firefighters had all agreed to a one-year pact with no raises.

“We had several years of very difficult financial times in town,” Stapczynski said. “That was one of our contract resolutions, to have zero continue for one year.”

Stapczynski said the next step in negotiations for the various police contracts it to schedule a status meeting with the selectmen.

“We’ll probably do that as soon as we get the budget,” he said.