Union, town at odds over firefighter shifts

The North Kingstown Town Council met in a rare Monday morning session to respond to a ruling by the State Labor Relations Board regarding the scheduling of town firefighters.

The State Labor Relations Board ruled Friday that town firefighters be taken off the 24-hour on/48-hour off shifts they've been working since March 2012 and returned to their old schedules.

But the town is digging in its heels, filing a motion Monday in Superior Court for a stay.

"We strongly believe as a council that if we don't have the right to do what we did then it is not the elected body that can represent the taxpayers," Council President Elizabeth Dolan said.

Dolan said the town is saving taxpayers $1.2 million a year by putting the firefighters on the 24-hour shifts.

But the union said it's putting firefighters and in turn, residents at risk.

"They've done nothing to evaluate how safe it's been for us, our well-being physically, emotionally -- all the different ramifications of doing this job, which is hard enough as it is," said union President Raymond Furtado.

In its decision, the labor board not only ruled firefighters should return to their previous schedules but that the town should compensate them in wages for essentially working one-third more hours per week for the last year-and-a-half for only a 10 percent raise.

The State Labor Relations Board itself filed a petition to have the courts enforce its Friday decision.

There are no firm dates yet for hearings on either the town's or the labor board's petitions.{}

Firefighters will stay on their 24-hour shifts for the time being.