NORTH PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — North Providence Mayor Charlie Lombardi and the town’s firefighters have been at odds for months, which began when Lombardi took a fire engine offline and replaced it with an ambulance.
Lombardi cited a higher call volume for rescue calls compared to fire calls.
Jay Petrillo, President of the North Providence Firefighters Local 2334, says in accordance with their contract, the union met with the mayor to discuss the effects of those changes when Lombardi made them.
At that point, they found a way to do so without costing taxpayers money and keeping all apparatus in service. But after a couple of weeks, Petrillo said the mayor reneged on that agreement, forcing them to file for arbitration.
The union requested a 3% raise, which is a move that made the mayor angry.
“That’s greedy with a capital G,” Lombardi said.
Lombardi said over the past four years, firefighters have gotten a 12% raise, or 3% each year.
“I’m not willing to expend any additional taxpayer dollars to the firefighters to perform a job they’ve been hired to do,” Lombardi said. “I’m upset because they’re taking advantage of the taxpayers. My job is to protect the taxpayers. That’s exactly the reason why I added a third rescue into our fleet, to protect our taxpayers. And I also have to protect them in their pocket.”
But Petrillo said not so fast.
“We have gotten raises. Contrary to what he’s telling you though, those weren’t for free. We gave up a lot of concessions to get those raises. We changed our healthcare to an HSA, high deductible account. We made some structural changes to our promotional system as far as firefighters who were just hired. There was a whole slew of things that was conceded in those contracts when we got those raises,” Petrillo said.
In the meantime, Lombardi has threatened to take away beds inside the fire station.
“It’s probably the top option at this point in time, but I’m just hoping that we can get their attention,” Lombardi said.
Petrillo said he’d rather agree to disagree and let things play out in arbitration.
“He’s always had our attention. But we’re also not going to be held hostage,” Petrillo said.
Petrillo said no matter how this plays out, North Providence firefighters are still planning to come to work.
“There’s no reason to be using nuclear options like taking beds away. The guys here are coming to work every day doing their job, and we do want the public to know that no matter what the issue is between the administration and the firefighters that we’re always gonna come to work, always gonna serve them with the same pride, compassion and commitment that we always have. This does not get in the way of any of that stuff,” Petrillo said.
Both sides say they’re willing to sit down and talk, but no official meeting has been set.