Contract negotiations between the Town of Easton and the Easton Firefighters Union have stalled, and it is unlikely they'll resume any time soon.
The Firefighters Union (Local 2790) recently filed a charge of prohibited practice against the town, alleging that Town Administrator David Colton violated collective bargaining rules by publicly discussing negotiations. Colton, and Town Labor Counsel Marc Terry deny any violation.
The spar is set to go to a hearing sometime this spring or summer.
According to the complaint, the Union alleges that Town Administrator David Colton violated negotiation ground rules, which state that "no public comment can be made about the substance of negotiations unless or until either party files for mediation."
Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations Investigator Kendrah Davis said in the complaint that there was probable cause that a violation had ocurred.
Ground rules were set between the union and the town on April 10, a day after an April 9 Board of Selectmen meeting in which Colton asked for, and received, a year extension on his contract with a 0 percent pay raise. The extension, he said, was consistent with what he is asking from all of the town's unions.
On April 17, Colton responded to a question on the community forum Eastonmass.com asking him to clarify his contract status.
Colton's response, as documented in the complaint, read as follows:
I am treating my own situation the same as I am the union employees. Last year, when we decided to pursue a zero cost of living year for all employees we did so at the expiration of existing contracts. Five union contracts expired June 30, 2011. Those five agreed to the zero cost of living effective the year ended June 30, 2012…the first year after the expiration of their contract.
I am currently negotiating with the remaining town side union whose contract expires June 30, 2012. I’ve made no secret about the fact that the Town will seek a zero cost of living increase for the first year following expiration of that contract.
I told the Selectmen that I would “reward myself” for this accomplishment…all six taking a year at zero…by taking a year at zero at the expiration of my current contract. I decided to do this before getting all six unions.
I’m not looking for praise, but I wanted people to understand the process.
The outstanding question is whether the Firefighters and Teachers are going to get on board.
According to Colton, no violation occurred because he was reiterating a policy already set by the town and negotiations had yet to begin.
"There were no proposals on the table yet," he said. "We weren’t negotiating over anything when I said that. We hadn’t had a session to negotiate. The only thing we had negotiated were the rules. How could I talk about a proposal that hadn’t been made yet? I had been talking about something we had set as a policy well before these negotiations began. I don’t see it as violating the agreement."
He said he discussed his goal of seeking a 0 percent pay increse with Town Unions as early as February and the comments on Eastonmass.com were already public knowledge.
The Firefighter Union, however, sees it differently.
"The DLR has filed our charge, so a violation has obviously occurred," Union Rep John Dzialo told Patch in an emailed statement. "We have made numerous attempts to move past this, and have only asked the Town to re-assure the Union that they will not discuss negotiations with the public, but the Town has chosen to continue denying the violation. It's ironic that this all started by the TA's attempt to save money, while he continues to waste tax payer money on the attorneys fees to defend a charge that he clearly violated."
Colton said he would not admit to something that he believes is false.
"They want me to say something that I don’t believe is true," he said. "I’m not going to sacrifice my integrity because they don’t like what I said."
In the mean time, no negotiations have taken place since April and the Firefighters are still without a new contract. Terry said a hearing date will likely take place in the spring or Summer.
"There have been facts alleged," he said. "[There are] facts in dispute. We need to have a hearing."