2016-10-06 / Front Page

FD contract still in limbo

By Anthony Aloisio
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – Negotiation between the city and firefighters has become difficult and unproductive, according to Tim Sevigny, president of the Biddeford Career Firefighters Association.

“They do not like the fire department,” Sevigny said. “We are a top fire department around, and they show us no respect.” Jim Bennett, Biddeford city manager, maintains optimism about the matter.

“I’m absolutely confident that long before we get to the end of the process, that the two sides will find a resolution,” Bennett said.

The parties have been in and out of mediation for the past eight months. According to Sevigny, the parties’ respective representatives agreed to employ John Alfano, a local mediator, to mediate the negotiation.

Mediation is the first step in the impasse resolution process. Impasse is a process for resolving collective bargaining disputes when the union involved is a public sector union. According to literature published by the Bureau of Labor Education at the University of Maine, public sector unions are prohibited from striking by law.

Each step in the process is designed to induce the negotiating parties to come to an agreement. The steps make limited changes to the negotiating relationship of the parties. Mediation employs a mediator, whose job is to craft and offer compromise solutions. According to both Sevigny and Bennett, however, the current mediation process is ending.

“The parties then can meet again or they go to the next impasse resolution that’s prescribed in the law, which is factfinding,” Bennett said.

Fact-finding typically employs a panel of three people to create a recommendation for the best resolution to the dispute between the parties. According to the Bureau of Labor Education, the panel is created with each party selecting a partisan panel member, and then with the first two panel members agreeing upon a third panel member. The parties then present their positions to the panel, and the panel deliberates to create a recommendation. The recommendation is not binding on the parties, but it is meant to give them a reference point on their relative bargaining positions such that they can more easily come to an agreement.

If fact-finding does not result in an agreement, then the impasse process continues to arbitration, where another panel has the power to make a binding decision, which binds the parties on all non-monetary matters. If, after arbitration, there is a disagreement on monetary matters, then the city has the power to implement the “last best offer,” which must be reasonably in line with proposals earlier in the process. The city still has the duty to bargain after implementing the last best offer.

Bennett does not anticipate that the process with the firefighters will need to get that far.

“I’m not aware of any time that a community and a union have gotten to that stage of resolution,” Bennett said.

For his part, Sevigny takes a different view. He said it is “very clear” that the city’s representatives don’t like the fire department, and expressed that he has specific reasons for that impression, although he declined to offer any detail.

“They want us out of the way,” Sevigny said.

Sevigny said his ultimate concern is staffing. His intent, he said, is to recruit highly qualified firefighters in sufficient number to serve Biddeford.

“We cannot cover all of our calls anymore with the staffing that we have,” Sevigny said. “They don’t want to address it, they want to hold my contract hostage with that.”

Sevigny believes that the blame is with the city council, which ultimately has the authority to come to an agreement.

“Tell the people of the city of Biddeford they need to call their councilors and be very concerned with their behavior,” Sevigny said.

Sevigny also warns that it may be difficult to keep the process in a civil tone.

“I would keep an eye on Facebook, because you’ll have people that will probably be making comments on there,” Sevigny said. “They’ll probably start attacking councilors. Obviously I can’t control everyone.”

Bennett regrets that such a change in tone could happen.

“I think it ends up making resolution tougher if you have to do it publicly,” Bennett said.

Contact Staff Writer Anthony Aloisio at news@inthecourier.com.

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