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Town, firefighters work out new labor contract

Deal includes retroactive raises

BRATTLEBORO—After nearly two years of negotiations with the town manager’s office, members of the Brattleboro Fire Department now have an employment contract — and retroactive raises.

At the March 20 regular Selectboard meeting, the Board unanimously approved the contract. This was the final step before the official signing of the document.

Town Manager Peter B. Elwell noted the fire department’s collective bargaining unit, the Brattleboro Professional Firefighters Association, IAFF Local 4439, already approved the agreement.

Reaching this agreement has been a long process for the firefighters and the town.

In the summer of 2016, the firefighters’ expired contract lapsed, but the two parties were still in negotiations. Later that fall, Elwell said, “we came to a point where we were at an impasse, and unfortunately that impasse continued for quite a while.”

The town and the firefighters went through a number of established processes, such as mediation and fact-finding, “but these processes didn’t actually resolve the matter,” Elwell said.

What did resolve the matter, he said, was having the town manager’s staff and the firefighters get together for “unassisted negotiations.”

“We worked hard together to find a place where we could rally around a contract that was acceptable” to both parties, Elwell said.

Included in the contract are retroactive pay raises, which the firefighters did not receive in the past two years, even as other town staff got wage increases.

The firefighters will get 2 percent retroactive to July 1, 2016, 2.5 percent from July 1, 2017, and on July 1, 2018, their pay will increase by another 2.5 percent. This, said Elwell, is within the range of raises the town agreed to with the other collective bargaining units.

Although this was the first time the Selectboard voted on this particular contract, it’s not the first time they participated in the process.

Board Chair Kate O’Connor noted “the Selectboard has been involved with this every step of the way.” Elwell pointed out that in the last month, the Board went into executive session four or five times and coming to a labor agreement with the firefighters “was the sole purpose of coming together.”

With this agreement, the town now has contracts in place with all four collective bargaining units — at least for the next year. Elwell noted negotiations begin next year for the next round of contracts.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #452 (Wednesday, March 28, 2018). This story appeared on page A1.

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