BY JOE OLENICK
Niagara Gazette —
LOCKPORT — Although he's given more State of the City addresses than any other chief executive in Lockport's history, Mayor Michael W. Tucker acknowledged Tuesday's version was a first for him.
Speaking before the Lockport Rotary Club, Tucker mentioned the throng of protesters gathering outside the Lockport Town & Country Club. The group was speaking out primarily against the laying off of seven city firefighters, which made up almost half of the total positions cut from the 2014 budget.
"This is the first year I brought an entourage with me," Tucker joked.
Over 30 protesters picketed outside the club, some swarming near the entrance on East Avenue, with others set up across the street near Davison Road. Almost all were carrying signs and heckling Tucker and other city officials as they arrived.
Kevin Pratt, Lockport Professional Firefighters Association president, said the picketing city firefighters were joined by firefighters from Niagara Falls, Tonawanda, North Tonawanda, Batavia and Buffalo. Representatives from the Niagara Orleans Labor Council were also present.
While talks with the city have not broken off, the fire union declared an impasse, which Tucker said he wasn't aware of. Pratt said Tucker isn't willing to go back to the negotiating table.
"The door's open, he doesn't want to talk," Pratt said.
Tucker said sometimes difficult financial decisions have to be made. But the city is willing to negotiate with the LPFA, he said.
"We're willing to talk," Tucker said.
With the layoffs, there are 38 city firefighters. As a result, three out of the fire department's four platoons are staffed at the bare, contractual staffing minimum, leading to more overtime, Pratt said. If a firefighter is absent for any reason, a firefighter from another platoon must be called in and paid overtime for the entire shift.
The city is spending as much in overtime as it would have if the seven firefighters were still on the job, Pratt charged.
“If the firemen want to negotiate a different minimum manning structure where we don’t work on overtime every platoon, we’re certainly open to that," Tucker said. "But we can’t change that number without negotiations.”
Pratt also claimed the Common Council directed the city’s negotiator to make a deal with the firefighters, but Tucker blocked it. That wasn't true, Tucker said.
"We had some proposal on the table. We liked it, we thought they liked it, too. They turned it down," he said.
While some changes were agreed to, the union hasn't received anything formal and on paper from the city, Pratt said.
Beside firefighters, four city departments lost positions in Lockport's 2014 budget. A building inspector, a streets laborer, an account clerk in the City Clerk’s Office and a Youth and Recreation Department assistant were all cut from the spending plan.Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.