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."