LOCKPORT – While firefighters who have declared a contract impasse with the city picketed outside, Mayor Michael W. Tucker said in his State of the City address Tuesday that the city is riding an unprecedented wave of development momentum.
About 30 members of the Lockport Professional Firefighters Association and other unions marched outside the clubhouse of the Lockport Town and Country Club as Tucker gave his annual speech at a Rotary Club meeting.
They heckled Tucker and other officials as they drove in and out of the golf course parking lot.
The marchers carried signs reading, among other things, “Lies, Deceit and Misrepresentation are No Way to Run a City.”
In his 22-minute speech, Tucker pointed to the city’s success last year in economic development, with Trek Inc. moving into Harrison Square and several businesses expanding or opening, while work began on restoration of two of the five 19th century Erie Canal locks in the so-called Flight of Five, scheduled to open this summer.
Tucker said that 2013 “was a year of unprecedented development, unlike anything that we have ever seen before in Lockport, and we are riding that momentum into 2014.”
He said the city is negotiating to bring another major tenant into Harrison Square, renovating 30,000 square feet of space in the former auto parts plant and adding 100 to 120 jobs.
“It’s a good-looking deal,” said R. Charles Bell, the city’s planning and development director, who declined to share details.
Near the end of his speech, Tucker acknowledged that the city was declared “moderately fiscally stressed” by the state Comptroller’s Office, which followed up with a negative audit and is sending auditors back to the city this month.
“I can assure you that this label was not and is not taken lightly,” Tucker told the Rotarians. “Work began immediately to get our city back on track.”
He praised the police union for cutting a money-saving deal with the city that included early retirements, and said the city is committed to negotiating new pacts with its four other unions “that help the employees and help to get the city back on track.”
Asked after the speech about the fire union talks, Tucker said, “We had some proposal on the table. We liked it, we thought they liked it, too. They turned it down.”
Kevin W. Pratt, president of the fire union, said, “We haven’t gotten any proposal from the city that I’m aware of that we agreed to. He’s been telling people that we turned down a retirement incentive, but that was never written down on paper and formalized.”
Pratt claimed the Common Council instructed the city’s negotiator, former Buffalo deputy mayor Samuel F. Iraci Jr., to make a deal with the firefighters, but Tucker blocked it.
“It’s not true,” Tucker said. “He has a counteroffer.”
Pratt said, “We agreed to changes in health care, changes in prescription coverage, a schedule change. Actually, we had a lot of agreement. The city would never come to put it on paper and give us something formal.”
Pratt said the union has declared an impasse “just to get the paperwork rolling,” although Pratt and Tucker agreed that talks have not broken off.
The Council voted to lay off eight firefighters when it passed the 2014 budget in November. A subsequent retirement reduced the number of layoffs to seven, but the cuts took the number of firefighters down to 38.
Pratt said three of the department’s four platoons are at the contractual minimum manning level of nine per shift, so if anyone is absent for any reason, a firefighter from another platoon must be called in and paid overtime for the entire shift.
He said the city therefore is spending as much in overtime as it would have to keep the seven firefighters on the job. “We’ve got people working 24, 34, 38 hours straight,” Pratt said. “It’s unsafe working conditions.”
Tucker said, “We’re going to continue to negotiate. They can say what they like.”
He added later, “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. But we can’t change that number without negotiations.”