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Firefighters can keep current schedule for now

March 26, 2002|BY STACEY DANZUSO

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Borough firefighters will remain on their current work schedule until contract negotiations have been completed, a Franklin County judge ordered Monday.

President Judge John R. Walker ruled against the Borough of Chambersburg, which sought an injunction against a ruling by the arbitration panel. The panel had ruled in favor of firefighters working their current schedule instead of one requested by the borough.

The International Association of Firefighters Local 1813 and the borough began negotiating a new contract last spring. The parties eventually moved into arbitration.

During a hearing Jan. 30, the arbitration panel ruled the borough's 18 paid firefighters should keep the schedule they worked for the last five years - 24 hours on duty followed by 48 hours off - until it makes a final ruling on the contract negotiations.

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The borough contended the arbitration panel had no jurisdiction to make such a decision and the firefighters should switch to a schedule of three 10-hour days followed by three 14-hour days and three days off.

The borough argued that the 1996 contract stipulates that unless new terms were reached by Dec. 15, 2001, the firefighters would automatically revert to a 10-hour/14-hour schedule.

In his ruling, Walker sided with the firefighters, allowing them to keep their current schedule.

The borough also contended in the injunction request it filed in February that the arbitration panel had no power to set the current work schedule.

Walker disagreed and wrote in his ruling the panel acted within its jurisdiction since the union raised the 2002 work schedule as an issue in dispute in its demand for arbitration.

Firefighters said they prefer the current schedule because it is less disruptive and allows them more time with their families.

The borough said it would save money on the 10-hour/14-hour schedule and that firefighters would be more rested with a mix of day and night shifts. The schedule would also allow the flexibility to staff more firefighters during the day when most volunteers are working their regular jobs.

Borough Solicitor Tom Finucane said Monday afternoon he had not seen the decision and could not say what the borough's next move would be.

"I will have to review the decision and see what it says," Finucane said.

Eric Fink, the union's attorney, said he was satisfied.

"The upshot is that he denied the injunction. This is what the union felt was legally appropriate," he said.

Pat Martin, president of the union, said Walker's decision was what they were hoping for. He also had not seen the decision.

Fink said the three-person arbitration panel has a meeting scheduled for early April, but there is no guarantee it will make a decision then on the firefighter's contract.

In addition to their schedule, the firefighters and the borough are also at an impasse on other items including wages and the size of the department, Fink said.

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