Elorza: City willing to consider different firefighter schedule

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A month after the city started requiring firefighters to work an average of 56 hours each week, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza said Tuesday he’s open to altering the fire department’s work schedule.

In a letter sent to union president Paul Doughty, Elorza said he is willing to “move to a different schedule under the three-platoon system” in order to address concerns that Providence may be the only fire department in the country that requires its firefighters to work two 10-hour days followed by two 14-hour nights followed by two days off.

“The administration remains – as it always has been – open to working with you as we change the a four to a three-platoon structure,” Elorza wrote. “If Local 799 leadership now wishes to explore a 24 or 48- hour schedule, as indicated above, we would welcome the conversation once again.”

Elorza said he’d be willing to have a discussion about schedule changes “independent of the current mediation process regarding the effects of the city’s managerial right to move to the three-platoon system.”

Elorza’s letter was sent two weeks after both city and union officials told WPRI.com they weren’t aware of another fire department in the country with the same fire shift schedule as the one the city implemented Aug. 2. An official with the International Association of Fire Fighters also said “we have not seen this [schedule] before.”

To be sure, Elorza is not backing off his changes.

He told Doughty he’d be willing to consider a schedule that has firefighters working 24 hours on followed by 48 hours off or 48 hours on and 96 hours off, “similar to best practices with many fire departments across the country.” In his letter, he noted that Doughty previously said he “did not prefer those shift schedules.”

Reached Tuesday, Doughty said if Elorza is now allowing the firefighters to bargain over the shift schedule, “I’d prefer our old shift.”

“I was under the distinct impression that the city’s legal argument is that shifts are a management right,” Doughty said. “It seems strange after unilaterally implementing their plan, that they now seek my permission to change it. It’s either a management right or it isn’t.”

The union has asked a Superior Court judge to allow an arbitrator to decide how much firefighters should be paid for Elorza’s platoon changes. The changes came with an 8% pay increase for the 33% increase to the work week.

The union and the city are schedule to appear in court next Tuesday.

Continue the discussion on FacebookDan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

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