Fire’s out between Oak Bluffs and fire union

Benefits, bargaining agreements, and unfair labor allegations settled.

From left, Chief John Rose, Deputy Chief Shawn Broadley, and Assistant Chief Manny Rose at an Oak Bluffs selectmen's meeting last year. The town and the union have come to a resolution.

After holding an executive session with Fire Chief John Rose and other fire department officials Tuesday night, Oak Bluffs selectmen reached an agreement with the fire union, International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) local 5137, to settle disputes that have plagued the department for more than a year.

EMS Lt. Mike Desrosiers, treasurer for the union, sent a memorandum of understanding regarding the removal of fire duties to the town. The memo contained a list of conditions, including the union recognizing the town’s decision to remove firefighting duties from EMS personnel in exchange for injured-on-duty benefits and shuttle assistance to and from Island ferries for emergency services personnel. In the case of the ferries, the agreement spells out that union members who arrive “within 15 minutes of the start of their shift … will not be disciplined for tardiness.”

The agreement mentions members of the union by name, including John Gonsalves, who will receive benefits “retroactive to the date of his recent injury.” It also calls for removing disciplinary action taken earlier this month against EMS employees Thomas Lambert and Richard Velez.

“It clarifies the duties, establishes some basic working conditions, and enables us. We’re going to continue welcoming the unit in,” town administrator Robert Whritenour told The Times. “We’ve had just a wide range and series of disputes that were involved with the [Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations (DLR)] in Boston and in the workplace. We’re very happy to announce this partnership with the unit.”

In addition to injury and shuttle benefits, the memo included a condition that the union will withdraw the more than 20 pending complaints of unfair labor practices filed with the DLR and a petition to the joint labor management committee. The allegations centered on Rose’s policies, as well as public comments made by town officials calling union members “cowards who hide behind the press.”

“We are happy to move forward and form a productive working relationship with town,” Desrosiers wrote in an email to The Times after the town’s decision. “I spoke with Bob Whritenour and am happy we could come to an agreement that moves the parties forward in a productive way. Our hope is that we can put litigation behind us and move forward to a [collective bargaining agreement] that works for both sides. This was best for all involved.”

Whritenour said the town welcomes the new unit and will continue working on a union contract: “We think it’s, overall, going to improve our service to the town, and folks will be well protected by these professionals, and so we’re happy with that.”

The memo also states that regular contract negotiations between the union and the town will continue, and plans for them to be concluded within 90 days.