Rensselaer, firefighters dispute over contract negotiations

RENSSELAER, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Firefighters in Rensselaer, who have been working for two years without a contract, are demanding the city come back to the negotiation table in good faith or risk arbitration.

The firefighters union spoke to the city council Wednesday evening. Tensions are high between firefighters and the city. Both sides have been working on a new contract since 2013. But after going back-and-forth on terms – and hoping for casino revenue that won’t be coming – the talks have hit a grid lock and both sides are asking the other to relinquish first.

“It’s not there,” Rensselaer Mayor Dan Dwyer said. “Somebody give me an explanation of how in the hell we pay the bills.”

Dwyer said the city does not have the money to meet the firefighters’ union’s demands.

“We’re hurting financially,” he said. “We’re stable. We’re trying to keep it stable.”

The two sides have been back and forth on contract terms since 2013. Mark Hennessy is the union president.

“We’re not looking to break the bank by no means; just looking for a fair, equal deal,” he said.

But Hennessy said a fair deal is anything but what they’ve been given.

“Unfortunately, we seem to be getting nowhere with the city,” he said.

Dwyer said the union originally wanted a five percent increase each year for four years.

“The cost factor was enormous,” he said.

To meet those demands, Dwyer said taxes would have gone up over six percent, but the city is capped at a two percent tax rate increase.

“We can’t afford it,” Dwyer said. “It’s a matter of dollars and cents.”

Dwyer said the city countered with a 1.5 percent increase, but Hennessy said the city has backed further away from that to zero.

“Kept progressing away from their original offers,” he said.

The city has also looked at abolishing four positions that were created and paid for by a grant that lasted three years.

“We don’t want to lose four guys,” Hennessy said. “We’re understaffed as it is.”

Hennessy said the union is upset with the staff cutting proposal as the city has been creating new positions at city hall.

“They have no money, they have no money, but they continue to hire at city hall,” Hennessy said.

A new controller and human resources director were among the new hires, and Dwyer said they’re needed to run the city. But City Council President Brian Stall said those positions could be revisited.

“It’s a possibility, yes,” he said.

Stall said finding common ground between both sides might take new people meeting at the table.

“Somewhere, usually in between there, the truth does lie,” he said.

Stall, Dwyer and Hennessy said they want to continue to meet, but no new dates have been set. If a deal is not reached soon, the union said it will go to arbitration.

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