BF, firefighters settle legal dispute

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BELLOWS FALLS — After a five-month legal battle with the International Association of Firefighters Local 4473, the Village of Bellows Falls may be able to put firefighting concerns to rest. During an executive session on Tuesday, the Village Board of Trustees voted to accept a legal agreement with the union representing Bellows Falls firefighters.

Firefighting was a hot-button issue in the village in 2017. In August, the trustees voted to lay off all four full-time firefighters at the Bellows Falls Fire Department. That same month the firefighters union filed an unfair labor practice against the village. The gist of the argument, Municipal Manager Shane O'Keefe said, was that the village was trying to get non-union workers to work union jobs. The village did replace the union firefighters. After the village laid off the four full-time firefighters, a new fire department was formed with on-call firefighters, who get paid when the respond to a fire, and a new full-time fire chief.

The firefighters agreed to withdraw all legal complaints they had filed with the Vermont Department of Labor Relations. In return for dropping the complaint, the village agreed to pay three of the four former firefighters $18,500.

One of the former firefighters, Jonathan Bebey has been offered to come back as a full-time, paid firefighter, which means the village would have two full-time firefighters. Bebey is currently employed with the village's water department.

If the village and firefighters hadn't reached an agreement they would have gone to a Vermont Labor Relations Board hearing on Feb. 6. The parties were able to reach an agreement with the help of a federal mediator on Monday.

Though the village spent money they hadn't planned for on the legal litigation and the settlement, O'Keefe said, that the money was nowhere near what they saved by laying off the firefighters.

"We're glad that we were able to reach an amicable agreement," O'Keefe said, "and we look forward to working with our fire department to enhance its services."

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

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