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Union Negotiator Blames Mayor for Stalled Contract Talks

Patch sat down with Lt. Dave Hanos Jr., chief negotiator for the Newport Fire Department union, to learn more about the department's perspective on staff cuts, overtime and benefit disputes.

Patch sat down with Lt. Dave Hanos Jr., president of Newport Fire Fighter Local 1080 and chief negotiator for the department. He gave the union’s perspective on ongoing contract negotiations, which Mayor Stephen Waluk referred to as “a tremendous disappointment” during the last council meeting.

Patch: In your opinion, why does the fire department not have an approved contract with the City of Newport?

Hanos: "Because they are basing the fire department purely off of money, and it does not have anything to do with safety or staffing. It’s strictly money driven."

Patch: But, there are certain economic realities in the budget this year ...

Hanos: "Yes, the economic realities of the budget are that the council short-funded the fire department budget, by not funding it to a full staffing level. So that is a budget they created, and that is why they are trying to back the fire department into a budget they created."

Patch: When you say full staffing, what does that mean?

Hanos: "Full staffing of 98 members. They have cut at least 10 members of out of the staffing ... I believe councilor [Jeanne-Marie] Napolitano pointed that out to Mr. [Edward] Lavallee, in 2011, and suggested they not cut the budget both ways. Don’t cut the overtime and the staffing, and they still did it. This is something they created. They did this."

Patch: At what levels are you operating today?

Hanos: "Nineteen. We have a 19-man minimum. When we were in Superior Court, in the spirit of negotiations, when our lawyers were in Judge Nugent’s chambers, trying to get a last-minute agreement, I told our lawyers that the union would go to our winter staffing levels of 19, in the spirit of getting a deal. This is something we offered. We did not have to do this. We could had stuck with 20. Judge Nugent thought this was a good offer on our part, which actually saves the city over $1,000 a day in overtime. So since April 1, we have saved the city approximately $1,000 a day, just on our goodwill."

Patch: What concessions has the union provided the City of Newport?

Hanos: "We have agreed to staffing reductions but not to the level of 17, like Mr. Waluk states in his comments. We do not have 17 minimum manning on the table.  That is something being argued in superior court, that they want to unilaterally cut us, but that is not something we are negotiating on.

More pension contributions for all actives, more health care payments from everyone on the job currently, not just new hires. Every guy on the job will have to pay more into their health care. A change in the way you calculate our pensions.

We have touched on all five of the important parts that the council lists. Maybe not to the level that they want ..."

Patch: When you say staffing reductions, would this mean layoffs?

Hanos: "No. We are down so far right now, we wouldn’t have to lay anybody off. We are short 12 members now, so even at a reduction, we would not have to lay anybody off."

Patch: So you are short 12 off the 98 member [full-staff]?

Hanos: "Correct. That is how many people have retired since the city has put on a hiring freeze. We also have two long-term injuries and one gentleman has just gone over to Afghanistan, so I would probably say we are 15 short.

"... Right now, we have just enough guys to show up to work on each shift, because we are so short. So, anytime anyone takes any time off, the city has to hire for overtime. If they can’t get someone to agree to take the overtime, they order you in. You don’t have a choice. You come to work, and they tell you you’re staying ...

"This summer they will be ordering in probably almost everyday ... The problem is, if the guys are working all this overtime, yes, the overtime is good to an extent, but then it gets to be a point where you are exhausted. You are running all night long, you have to stay for the next day. That’s where fatigue sets in, injuries, accidents, guys are tired."

Patch: So if this is not resolved shortly, do you believe there is a risk that the service level provided to residents will be impacted?

Hanos: "I would say, yeah. Something has to give here. These guys just can’t keep working 80 hours a week ... it’s either you hire the individuals and fill the vacancies or you pay the overtime ... so [the council] took the position that they would rather pay the overtime than fill the positions. I guess. I can’t read their minds, but that must be what their philosophy is. It’s cheaper to pay the overtime than hire the guys.

"It’s unfair for the city to attack us on something, when it’s something that they did ... The service may suffer to the citizens since the guys are tired."

Patch:  What is your preference?

Hanos: "A fully-staffed department. A multi-year contract."

Patch: With overtime?

Hanos: "There would be very little at that point, almost none."

Patch: Mayor Waluk, in the last council meeting, stated that the unfortunate fiscal reality for the City of Newport, is that across all departments, the staffing levels are lower than that of similarly sized cities. How would you respond to his comment that an agreement could not be reached to satisfy both parties, provided, fundamental fairness for all city employees?

Hanos:  He’s disingenuous. He’s not telling the truth. If he really doesn’t know that we have an offer on the table that has fundamental changes in them, more pension contributions, more pay towards our health care, staffing reductions, a change in your retirement pension, if he doesn’t know any of that, he probably shouldn’t be calling himself the mayor.

"If he does know that, he is being extremely disingenuous because he stated we refused to negotiate. I have it taped, he was on TV stating it – it is not true."

Patch: What does this mean for the Newport Fire Department?

Hanos: "We have to negotiate staffing cuts, which we have negotiated all the way back to 2008, I believe. We have always given the city a fair deal, a more than fair deal, in my opinion. For some reason, it just can’t seem to get ratified by the council.

"It was actually a contract that the city crafted and handed to me, and then Mr. Lavallee took it out of the lawyer’s hands and basically threw it through the shredder. He said the city didn’t have enough money. Then in the last budget hearing, Laura Sitrin said they did have the money, so I don’t know what is going on with the city."

Patch: What did that agreement look like?

Hanos: "That agreement had lower staffing than 18. It had the number 17 in there. It had pay raises in there that would bring us in line with what the Newport Police make. Being five years back, obviously our salaries are reflective, they are five years behind the police salaries.

"Our last pay raise was in ’07 [because] we have not been able to come to an agreement for an ’08 contract."

Patch: Why do you think the contract was pulled?

Hanos: "I have no idea. I don’ t know. It was their offer, it was their deal. They brought it to us. I had my guys ratify it, reluctantly ratify it because the staffing were so deep. But the city council said this is what the citizens of Newport demand of you ... We have to get a hold of the overtime, we have to get a hold of your staffing.

"So we reluctantly agreed to it because it was a multi-year contract, there were some raises involved and they guys figured, yeah, we will go ahead and do it. The elections came around. They stalled. They didn’t want to make a deal because it was a big pa-out, so they figured they would in November, come back into discussions. That didn’t happen."

Patch: Do you see any alternatives to a legal approach at this point?

Hanos: "It’s unfortunate, but no. I don’t think we do."

Patch: Are you optimistic this will get resolved?

Hanos: "No, I’m not. But I’m going to work doggedly at it and I guess keep getting these contracts taken out of my hands. But we will keep coming back to the table because it’s a duty to our brothers to keep going back to get a contract."

Patch: Why don’t you see this resolving in the near future?

Hanos: "Waluk. It is personal. He’s a child. He doesn’t belong in office. He steals votes, he manipulates people up there, he stole the mayor’s seat from Jean. She was the highest vote getter. He’s bad for the city of Newport."

Patch: But some may say he’s not the negotiator for the city. He does not have the decision-making powers.

Hanos: "He has all of the decision-making powers ... If the city solicitors wrote a contract and handed it to me, how come it got taken out of their hands? I’m not Sherlock Holmes, but apparently they’re not the ones driving the bus, somebody else is. They are a negotiating team, negotiating on behalf of somebody who gave them a road map to go down. Even they were surprised when they thought they had a deal with us."

Patch: So you believe the single roadblock [in these negotiations] is a personal issue?

Hanos: "I believe it to be someone’s personal belief that unions are not good. That unions need to be pushed out of the State of Rhode Island. That unions don’t belong in the workforce. Maybe it’s not personal against an individual, but it’s a personal ideology, a philosophy ... If you didn’t have unions, we probably wouldn’t have a fire department in the City of Newport right now. And we aren’t bad people. We are actually very good people. We live here, we work here, we own homes here ... We contribute to the economy."

Derek June 20, 2011 at 06:17 PM
Mrs. Enger did you talk to the mayor and/or council to get the other side of the story. Thanks
Olga Enger June 20, 2011 at 06:39 PM
Derek, Thanks for reading. Of course, it is always the goal to provide a balanced perspective. This interview is a follow-up to last week's council session which approved the 2012 budget and discussed these contract negotiations. That article with the council's comments can be found below: http://newport.patch.com/articles/council-approves-783-general-fund-budget-fire-department-allocated-12m-in-overtime
tiff June 20, 2011 at 06:58 PM
As in impartial person in the debate, the article that you are linking does not adequately tell the other side of the story. A few statements compared to a lengthy interview is not enough.
Ben Z June 20, 2011 at 07:24 PM
Bottom Line Waluk is a criminal with the keys to the bus. He and Olaughlin and Leonard conspired to take the seat away from Napalitano and lead to the resignation of the city manager. Waluk is your vote though so next time you complain remember what you are complaing about at the ballot boxes. If you want the city to run under bad scams and personal agenda's vote for Waluk again and see how bad we are in ten years.
tiff June 20, 2011 at 07:45 PM
Name calling is not appropriate here at all. This issue needs a fair debate. Let's raise the level of discourse, people.
ctt June 20, 2011 at 08:32 PM
Bravo Olga, it's about time we get to read an article with just the plain truth, unlike some other publications (NDN). It's refreshing to read an article without negative slants by the journalist. Thank you to Mr.Hanos for finally letting the public know what the mayor is doing to the Fire Department and what the mayor is doing to the taxpayers of this city. If the city could probably save millions for the taxpayers you would think the city would be jumping to sign that contract. Shame on the council and shame on the mayor.Thank you for such an eye opening article.
MWS June 20, 2011 at 09:13 PM
Bring back Harp Donnelly, a man who understood the value of hard work and unions!! What is a "Waluk" and from where did he come?
MWS June 20, 2011 at 09:26 PM
Seriously, I am tired of cities and states trying to balance the budget on the shoulders of the police, fire fighters, and teachers. Are state officials and state employees taking the same "hit" as they expect essential service providers to take? I doubt it. Yet, the same expectations that we will be protected, and that our property will be safe, and that our children will receive a high level of education remain constant. It's all about priorities. Don't complain when it takes too long for that police officer to arrive; don't cry when there weren't enough fire fighters to save your home; and don't blame teachers when they can't provide your child the individual attention he/she needs. You get what you pay for.
Jack June 20, 2011 at 09:32 PM
What a pleasure to see some real reporting in Newport at last...... Waluk has been calling the shots since he forced Salve to take their money for the revamping of Toppa Field to Middletown and far away from his bedroom window.....he has McLaughlin with him as a vendetta against the Firefighters who tried to get rid of the two of them last election.....Duncan is just a dumb soul who will follow the big boys and we all know what Kate got for her vote, no pier Mrs H. Now doesn't that sit nicely with the Newport taxpayer, if NO then say something and say it loudly
Sean June 20, 2011 at 09:36 PM
One fumble after another with this guy Waluk! First he negotiates for Salve to upgrade Middletowns Athletic fields instead of Toppa field, and now this! Never has there been a more polarizing figure in the city's top post! It's a shame for all of us taxpayers!
Jack June 20, 2011 at 11:24 PM
I was told he threatened the School Department (Dr Ambrogi) with a smaller budget if he was ever placed where he was seated at the Rogers Graduation Ceremonies......real class act
Deb June 20, 2011 at 11:29 PM
What a shame that Newport has a mayor with so little a conscience or so little caring for the safety of men serving or or respect for those having served on the Newport Fire Department. The fire department has always tried to bargain with fairness toward the city and the taxpayers - where is the city's fairness to them now. Five years with no contract is disgraceful on the city's part. The members of the Newport Fire Department have always been dedicated and committed to the residents of Newport. Where is the return of committment to them? There is never a good time to be a firefighter in the northeast...hot in the summer with all that heavy gear in a fire and fighting fires when it is freezing cold. They have every right to expect to be paid fairly for what they do. Even the military does not go 5 year with out pay raises.
Derek June 20, 2011 at 11:56 PM
I looked up the mayor on the city tax website, according to that it says he doesn't even pay taxes here. Is this correct? Is that legal? Talk about gambling with the houses money. Geez maybe the unions should look into that.
Beachview June 21, 2011 at 11:09 AM
Why don't we tar and feather the Mayor like they did in the old days. This is what's wrong with politics...you disagree with someone, so you call them liars...you call them names and then you wonder why not many people will run for office and we get the same elected officials year after year. I have nothing against the fire department and believe that they do a tremendous job, but we have to do something to control costs and I can't believe that the Mayor has nothing better to do than pick on the poor fire fighters. Come on! By the way Dave, most active firefighters DO NOT "live here or own homes here".
David Hanos June 21, 2011 at 01:05 PM
To Beach view, My name will appear as I have nothing to hide. We currently have 86 FF's employed by the city and 45 own and live in the city by the sea. We have one mayor who lives here but doesnt own nor pay property tax. Ther are always 3 sides of a story,mine ,yours and the real story. Without both of us in the room to debate,theres only one side at a time you folks can't make up your own minds which is frustrating. This is how things go on in city hall often. We need more transparency. As a mayor I feel he should not mislead the public by saying we "refuse to negotiate" as this is a mis leading and false statement.I can say I disagree but his statement is balatantly false. You called him a liar I simply pointed out he is disingenuos and have all the FACTS to back up my statement. To pit our proud members against every other union in the city is dirty politics and he deserves to be called out along with Justin and Charlie. I am always available to chat with anyone who wishes to contact me and discuss the issues at hand. We are still negotiating as we have been for the last 8 years and can't be specific except to say this local has offered generous concessions year after year which the city could have been cashing in on already. Lets move forward and settle a fair contract ,with concessions, for both parties.
tiff June 21, 2011 at 01:35 PM
I just don't understand how one person - namely Mayor Waluk can hold up negotiations year after year. Napolitano was mayor for two years and you did not get a contract then either. What about Trifero? He was mayor after 2005. I understand that there is bad blood going on here - I just wish that we could get the whole story. Something is amiss. Name calling, by the way, weakens any argument.
amusedinri June 21, 2011 at 07:57 PM
As Mr Hanos says you need both parties in a debate. Mr Waluk would you like to say something ? Was surprised to learn the mayor doesn't own a home in Newport. Why is that ? Mr' Waluk, What do for work? What is your pay? Do you have health care? Are you in a union? Co-pays ? etc. Thanks
Sarah Fernandez June 21, 2011 at 09:40 PM
My boyfriend sent me this interview, since he is in a Union (in RI, but he doesn't work in Newport) and he often times tries to explain the issues to me. But I must say after reading the comments, the attacks, the accusations and name calling - I can't believe this will get you guys too far. On one side you insist for pay increases, pensions, health care - but at the same time demonstrate a total lack of professionalism or respect for your community. Nothing in the comments helps me understand why I should be supportive of cause...on the flip side, I feel as I have reason to be concerned that the men who are supposed to keep me safe are about as mature as my 7 year old son.
tiff June 21, 2011 at 10:02 PM
What does it matter that the mayor rents in Newport? Is he not helping the landlord pay taxes to the city just by paying rent??? City council members need to be voters in the city of Newport. They do not have to be property owners. This is a non-issue. Mr. Waluk is the mayor - he ran a fair race and is mayor in accordance with the city charter. He did not steal votes. As I stated, I am an impartial person in this debate and just want information. In general, I am in support of unions, but these are complicated matters during lean financial times need thoughtful analysis. If you want answers from the mayor - ask him! Olga - ask for an interview. See what happens.
Beachview June 21, 2011 at 10:25 PM
David- My point is that your personal attacks on Waluk by calling him a child and that he stole votes, etc. diminishes your cause. I want to see a contract that is good for both the city and for the fire department, for which I have a lot of respect and believe that you deserve a contract. I know that you are frustrated, but you are better than this. Like Tiff said, there was no contract under Jeanne or under Trifero so don't make this personal. My apologies for stating that most active firefighters live in Newport. I admit that I was mistaken, but whether Waluk owns a home in Newport is a moot point.
Gary Russell June 21, 2011 at 11:46 PM
Finally an editor that prints both sides of the story thank you Newport Patch! I am interested in why Waluk didn’t comment on this article? Did you ask him? Or did he refuse to answer any questions because your news article is fair and tell both sides unlike the daily news…. I have been watching the meetings and workshops and I find it funny that now Waluk starts to talk publicly on the fire department in council meetings, why? Is it that the chief has left, the city manager is one foot out the door, and he is losing ground??? Why is it that Waluk is making these statements in council meetings and not the city manager or city solicitor don’t they deal with the unions? I also want to know why the city backed out of a deal that would have saved the city of Newport money. Who made that decision? These are questions that I have seen and heard around town. I think Waluk should give some answers rather bashing the fire department; he might not get my vote next time!
amusedinri June 22, 2011 at 01:49 PM
I understand that home ownership is not needed to hold office.I am not trying to say renters shouldn't have a say. My feelings are that when you own a part of something you take better care of it,work harder to make sure it stays in good shape. If you rent something you can just give it back and walk away. Do you treat your rental car like the car you own? If you own the house you might be alittle more concerned about it if it caught on fire than if you just rented it. I wouldn't call Mr. Waluk a child but I feel he and some of the council acted like children with the name calling (Sacred calfs,elephant in the room etc.).
Sarah Fernandez June 22, 2011 at 02:31 PM
My boyfriend and I got into a heated debate about this last night, and he made the same point about home ownership. I took the stance that it's ironic that with union salaries and what the interview says is 40 hours of overtime a week - must be nice to be able to afford housing in Newport. I would love to own my house, have a garden, but I rent because I can't afford the prices. I'm obviously supportive of unions, which allows my boyfriend to help my son and I out when things get difficult, but you guys do very well...so if you are a home owner, so appreciate it - but don't criticize us who don't have the ability to purchase. And trust me, I want you to come if there is a fire. Even if I don't own the title.
tiff June 22, 2011 at 02:43 PM
Mr. Waluk's family has deep roots and ties to Newport - all of whom happen to be property owners. This is totally irrelevant. Let's just hope that everyone can come to an agreement. Certainly, the firefighters deserve to make a living and should be able to afford homes in this city. I have nothing but the utmost respect for them and the work they do. But for Mr. Hanos to call Mr. Waluk and child, a liar and a vote stealer does not help any situation. He is just fanning the flames out of anger - not fact. To say that Mr. Waluk is the only person to hold up the contract for since 2005 can not possibly be true. We have 7 council members. What about their responsibility in this matter year after year?
amusedinri June 22, 2011 at 07:44 PM
"This is totally irrelevant. " Judge tiff has spoken. Peace :-)

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