July 23, 2014

Firefighters, town near agreement

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By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Williston Fire Station

Williston Fire Station

The seven Williston members of the International Association of Firefighters Local 4611 are close to signing a new labor contract with the town, according to Shift Officer Keith Baker, the local union president.

Baker said that while discussions between the firefighters and town officials were congenial and didn’t require lawyers to be present, the department is currently having an attorney review the contract for accuracy and completeness.

“At this point, we’re just waiting for a final draft,” Baker said. “I don’t expect any problems.”

Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire told the Observer on May 8 that during an executive session following its May 7 meeting, the Williston Selectboard authorized him to sign the contract on behalf of the town. He said the proposed contract is the result of an informal discussion process, not a formal negotiation.

“The contract expired June 30, 2011. There was a provision in the last contract that said in order to negotiate changes, the union would have to give four months notice. They didn’t do that,” McGuire said. “The union asked if I was willing to negotiate despite that, and I said no—but, I was willing to talk to the employees and have discussions with them on an informal basis.”

McGuire said the two biggest changes in the proposed contract—which would run through June 30, 2013—involve cost of living increases and an alternate retirement plan option.

The proposed agreement calls for a 1 percent cost of living increase retroactive to July 1, 2011, and an additional 0.5 percent increase that would be effective July 1, 2012.

The alternate retirement plan option, which wouldn’t be available until July 1, 2012, would lower the normal retirement age for eligible employees from 62 to 55, although the benefit would come at an increased cost to the employee.

“It’s set up so the employees pay a larger portion of their pay toward retirement than they’re paying now, and the town also pays a little bit larger portion,” McGuire said. “The town’s contribution would increase by 1.5 percent. The employee’s contribution is close to a 5 percent increase.”

McGuire said he’s confident that an agreement will be reached in the near future.

“I have reason to expect the firefighters are in favor of this,” he said.

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