Village of Bellows Falls responds to unfair labor allegations

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BELLOWS FALLS — The Village of Bellows Falls has responded to new allegations by the Local 4473 International of Association of Firefighters.

Timothy Noonan, executive director of the state Labor Relations Board, was supposed to meet with firefighter union representatives and representatives from the village Oct. 24. However, the meeting was postponed after firefighter union representatives submitted an amended complaint Oct. 23.

The Bellows Falls Fire Department submitted its original complaint after an Aug. 9 vote by the Village Board of Trustees to eliminate all four full-time firefighter positions to meet budget constraints.

The complaint states that the village was in violation of four statutes under the Vermont Municipal Labor Relations Act: A1) "To interfere with, restrain or coerce employees in the exercise of their rights guaranteed by this chapter or by any other law, rule or regulation;" A3) "By discrimination in regard to hiring or tenure of employment or by any term or condition of employment to encourage or discourage membership in any employee organization;" A5) "To refuse to bargain collectively in good faith with the exclusive bargaining agent;" and A6) "To refuse to appropriate sufficient funds to implement a written collective bargaining agreement."

In the firefighters' last submitted ULP, they alleged that the village didn't pay any of the cost-of-living increases to firefighters and that, after the initial complaint had been filed, the village stopped allotting overtime to cover vacations and sick time. They also claimed that the village has had to close the firehouse on several occasions.

The village admitted that it didn't increase firefighters' pay to accommodate for cost-of-living. "There is no requirement under the 2014 agreement to make any wage adjustments prior to reaching a new agreement, if any," Village Attorney Ray Massucco wrote.

The village denied the allegation that over-time coverage stopped being implemented after the filing of the ULP and said the firehouse had only been closed on one occasion, on Oct. 8 from noon to 7 p.m.

"Shift coverage has been scheduled without overtime for the last 18 months, long preceding the filing of the unfair labor practice," Massucco wrote.

In addition to the new allegations, the village's newest response, submitted on Tuesday, took the opportunity to change some of the original answers to old allegations.

The firefighters alleged that the private ambulance service contracted with the village, Golden Cross, can ask firefighters to assist paramedics. Originally, the village denied this claim; now, however, the village admitted to it.

The firefighters also alleged that, during union negotiations, the union proposed financial or benefit enhancements to firefighter pay based off of the level of experience the firefighters had and that the village repeatedly opposed the negotiations.

Originally the village denied the claim. "The village engaged in good faith negotiations at all bargaining sessions and the single mediation," Massucco wrote. In his newest response, however, the village both admitted and denied parts of the claim.

Massucco wrote, "The village engaged in good faith negotiations at all bargaining sessions and the single mediation. The union proposed raises as high as 10.4 percent."

Harmony Birch can be reached at hbirch@reformer.com, at @Birchharmony on Twitter and 802-254-2311, Ext. 153.

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