WILKES-BARRE – Mayor Tom Leighton's administration on Tuesday pointed fingers at the local firefighters union for hiding voting results on a proposal that could bring back 11 laid-off firefighters while guaranteeing savings.
The administration negotiated an agreement with Local 104 firefighter leaders stipulating that the city would rehire the 11 firefighters on Jan. 28 and would not lay off any firefighters before March 1 if the police and fire unions gave up Act 120 pay and the streets department and city hall workers' unions gave up a 3 percent contractual raise.
Act 120 pay is a $1,500 stipend for certification training that police won in previous negotiations in exchange for giving up the right to issue parking tickets. Courts ruled firefighters also must be given $1,500 stipends because of a parity clause in their contract.
City Administrative Coordinator Drew McLaughlin said the proposal was dated Jan. 10, and a vote by firefighters scheduled for last weekend was postponed until Monday. Similar votes also were postponed by the police and city hall unions until after the firefighters voted. He said International Association of Fire Fighters Local 104 leadership on Monday night announced a vote had been completed, but refused to tally the votes, keeping them in a lock-box.
Local 104 leaders incorrectly cited failed votes by both the Police Benevolent Association and the Laborers International Union of North America Local 1310, which represents city hall workers, as justification for not releasing the results of the firefighters' vote, he said.
While the administration does not support the continued voting delay by any municipal union, both the PBA and 1310 merely postponed their votes, said McLaughlin. They did not reject the administration proposal outright.
In fact, he said, leaders of the other unions have publicly stated that if the firefighters made a financial concession, they would respond accordingly.
I am extremely disappointed that even the most basic of concessions to guarantee savings and rehire 11 firefighters immediately is unobtainable, Leighton said in a press release.
There is no risk or harm to voting this measure up or down, he said. The people of Wilkes-Barre who bear the brunt of financing the government want to see the largely unionized employee workforce share in the sacrifice.
Local 104 President Mike Bilski disagreed on all counts. He said he was told by members of other unions that they didn't support the city's offer because while firefighters received something in return (the hire-back), the other unions did not.
Why not (tally the votes and) find out? Because our guys are distraught the way it is. We don't need any more infighting, Bilski said.
McLaughlin said there's no reason the other unions can't schedule a vote contingent on firefighters agreeing to the proposal. Still, he said, firefighter union heads should display some leadership here because releasing the tally is the quickest solution. Everybody's standing at the edge of the pool, but no one's willing to be the first to jump in, he said.