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Councilors Praise Residency Clause In Contract For Springfield Firefighters

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     Firefighters in the second-largest fire department in Massachusetts will be subject to the strictest residency requirement in the state under the terms of a new contract proposal.

    The tentative agreement between the city of Springfield and the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 648 requires all new hires to reside in the city for 10 years. There are no provisions in the contract for exceptions from the residency requirement or waivers, according to Labor Relations Director William Mahoney, who represented the city at the bargaining table.

    "We thought this would be a fair deal for the city and for the firefighters," said Mahoney.

    City officials said Boston is the only other city in Massachusetts that has a 10-year minimum residency requirement as a condition of employment with its fire department, but it was not known if exceptions or waivers are allowed.  No municipality in the state has a residency requirement greater than 10 years.

    The tentative contract for Springfield firefighters appears to mark a milestone in efforts by several City Councilors going back at least a decade to compel more of the city’s workforce to live within the city limits.

    The City Council’s General Government Committee, chaired by Councilor Justin Hurst, voted 3-0 Tuesday to recommend the full City Council vote to fund the four-year contract.

     " I think it is a great start," said Hurst. " The fact that it mirrors, or might even be stronger than that of Boston is phenomenal. So, I am excited that we are making progress."

     It will be on the agenda for the June 5th City Council meeting.

         Councilor Mike Fenton said the proposed contract is a “huge victory” for advocates of a strict residency requirement for city employees. He praised the city’s negotiating team for getting the residency clause into the agreement.

   "For a city that has, in my opinion, a really bad record on residency this is a really nice silver lining," said Fenton.

   The City Council a few years ago passed an ordinance that was intended to tighten loopholes in a decades-old residency law, including limiting the authority of the mayor to grant waivers.  But changes were stymied by existing collective bargaining agreements.

    Firefighters union President Drew Piedmonte said the membership voted to ratify the agreement knowing the City Council would insist on a residency requirement.

   "Obviously anybody that reads the papers knows it has been a pretty hot topic in the city for a few years now," said Piedmonte.

    The contract, which covers 276 firefighters, has 2 percent annual pay increases and a 1.5 percent bonus increase on July 1st, 2017. The effective date for the residency rule is July 8th, 2107.

    City Council President Orlando Ramos said the contract with the firefighters sets a precedent for the next contract with the police patrolman’s union.

    "It was the fact that we stood our ground and said we would not approve a contract that did not have residency language in it. We made it loud and clear and the message was received," said Ramos.

    A recently negotiated contract between the city and its largest employee union, the city’s public school teachers, does not include a residency requirement.  State law specifically exempts teachers from any local residency rules.

    The law requires public safety personnel to live within 10 miles of the municipality where they are employed.

  

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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