Bellows Falls Fire Department wants layoffs rescinded


BELLOWS FALLS — Firefighters in Bellows Falls have asked that the state step in to rescind a layoff of all full-time firefighters.

On Aug. 9, the Village Board of Trustees voted to eliminate the four positions to meet budget constraints; voters mandated a spending reduction at a July 20 budget re-vote meeting, and the trustees made the cuts to the department. Voters approved a budget that would raise only $1,700,000 by taxes. The original budget by the Board of Trustees proposed raising $1, 941, 290 by taxes. The vote left the trustees $241,290 to cut.

The staffing cuts won't take effect until December due to a 120-day notice required by the firefighters' contracts.

On Aug. 17 David Bellimer, president of Local 4473 International Association of Firefighters, submitted an unfair labor practice against the Village of Bellows Falls to the Vermont Labor Relations Board.

The union is alleging that the village was in violation of four statutes under the Vermont Municipal Labor Relations Act, including: interfering with, restraining or coercing employees in the exercise of their rights guaranteed by the chapter or by any other law, rule, or regulation; discriminating 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; refusing to bargain collectively in good faith with the exclusive bargaining agent; and refusing to appropriate sufficient funds to implement a written collective bargaining agreement.

The Vermont Labor Relations Board refused the first claim because there was no proof provided that the employers, the Village of Bellows Falls, had received a copy of the unfair labor practice and the union had not specified what it was asking the outcome of the investigation to be.

A revised copy was submitted on Thursday, according to Timothy Noonan, executive director of the Vermont Relations Board. The union provided proof that the revised copy was given to Bellows Falls and asked that the layoff be rescinded, the fire department be funded for the remaining fiscal year and that the village "cease and desist" retaliation against the union. The union also requested that the village acknowledge "its violations of the law, and all other appropriate relief."

The board has requested a response from Bellows Falls before Sept. 22.

"It will be timely," Municipal Manager Shane O'Keefe said.

O'Keefe said he trusts the board to make a fair decision. "We believe we're in good standing," he said. Bellows Falls doesn't appear to have a history of unfair labor practices. Noonan said the board had not filed any charges against Bellows Falls, according to records dating back to 1977.

O'Keefe said the village will wait to make big decisions after the labor board makes its decision.

"We have a limited budget," he said. "We need to make sure we meet our goals."

Deputy Fire Chief Steve Cenate said he didn't want to interfere with the board's possible investigation.

"We're hoping for a successful resolution for our side," Cenate said.

Harmony Birch can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext.153. Or you can follow her @birchharmony.


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