Court orders 24-hour firefighter shifts
Selectmen wanted shorter periods
LAKEVILLE -- Forced by a preliminary injunction from a Plymouth Superior Court judge, the Board of Selectmen has directed Fire Chief Daniel Hopkins to put his staff on a 24-hour shift rotation beginning today, instead of continuing to assign them to 10- and 14-hour shifts.
The 24-hour shift issue has been a major point of disagreement between the board and the firefighters' union for more than two years. The dispute has prevented the two sides from reaching a contract agreement since July 2004.
Selectmen, who act as fire commissioners, want the department to continue with the shorter shifts, saying it's a safety issue.
The union prefers the 24-hour rotation, saying the schedule works better for the eight full-time firefighters in the department and their families.
Under the preliminary injunction, the department will assign 24-hour shifts until a pending court case on the dispute can be settled.
"It's a step in the right direction," union president Tim Collins said. "Hopefully, we can put this issue behind us and move forward. We've got to negotiate another contract, since this one will expire in six months."
Richard LaCamera, who on Tuesday chaired his last meeting as a member of the Board of Selectmen, stressed that the schedule change is temporary, in effect only until the court settles the pending court case.
Selectwoman Nancy Yeatts, the new chairwoman of the board, said the panel's concern over firefighters working 24 hours straight remains unchanged.
"We continue to think it's a safety issue," she said.
Collins said the 24-hour rotation -- one 24-hour shift, followed by two days off, then a second 24-hour rotation followed by four days off -- allows firefighters more time with their families. Until today, firefighters have been working two 10-hour day shifts, followed by two 14-hour night shifts.
"If you work six at night until eight in the morning, you're due back in 10 hours later," Collins said. "With the 24-hour schedule, we would have more down time."
The union has said the switch to 24-hour shifts will not cost the town additional money.
But Yeatts said that may not be true. "That's yet to be determined," she said. "And we haven't budgeted any money for it."
On Feb. 12, the union and selectmen will each have their chance to tell the court how they want to proceed in the case, according to the union's lawyer, David Rome.
Selectmen could decide to keep the 24-hour rotation or continue to fight the schedule change.
The case, filed by selectmen, appeals a September 2005 ruling by a state Joint Labor Management Committee arbitration panel backing the 24-hour shifts.
Christine Wallgren can be reached at email@example.com.