Fire Union Wants Selectmen To Follow Charter
Firefighters have valid complaint, but selectmen say they have done nothing wrong.
Selectmen and the town’s firefighters’ union are at odds over negotiations on a new contract. That is nothing new. What is unusual is the reason the union is complaining has nothing to do with salary, benefits or working conditions.
Union president Richard Medeiros says selectmen are violating the town charter by refusing to negotiate in person. Selectmen have been sending their attorney and the Town Manager to negotiating sessions, and say they have no intention of changing that. This is a break from past practice, when at least two selectmen sat in on negotiations.
And they sat in for good reason. The Town Charter clearly and unambiguously states two selectmen “shall attend and participate with the town manager” in all collective bargaining contract negotiations. Medeiros and his union seem absolutely correct when they point to the alleged charter violation.
Town Manager Michael Yunits claims Norton’s town counsel has advised them there is no need for selectmen to personally attend negotiations. That is difficult to accept, given the seemingly clear language in the charter. Selectman Chairman Bob Kimball says this practice has been going on for the last few years, and Yunits reports there have been no complaints from the other unions involved in negotiations.
That may be true, but it doesn’t make the firefighters’ union any less correct in their claim. They have a very valid complaint. Of course, no one should believe they are motivated solely by a desire to see the Town Charter followed and respected. They want selectmen in the room during negotiations because they believe it is to their advantage to have them there. And they are probably correct. Having the elected officials in the room probably strengthens their bargaining position.
But the union’s motive is not the issue here. Selectmen need to explain in detail exactly how they determined they don’t have to follow this particular section of the Town Charter. Are they now allowed to pick and choose which sections of the document can be ignored? If there has been a legal opinion rendered advising them to do this, they should produce it. The integrity of the Town Charter is at stake, and frankly that is more important than the ongoing negotiations.
I believe using a lawyer and the Town Manager to negotiate contracts is a better plan for taxpayers and citizens. It makes a lot of sense, despite the firefighters opinions to the contrary. But until and unless the wording is amended, the Town Charter should be respected and followed.
And that is not a matter for negotiation.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a former selectman. He can be reached at email@example.com.