Firefighters' union seeks injunction on Poquonnock Bridge layoffs

Groton - The Poquonnock Bridge Fire Fighters Union has filed a complaint seeking an injunction in New London Superior Court to rescind the layoffs of nine firefighters and require the fire district board to meet minimum staffing of firefighters under the contract.

The minimum under the current contract is five firefighters per shift. The complaint, filed July 8, names as plaintiffs the nine firefighters to be laid off July 25, along with the union. The Poquonnock Bridge Fire District is named as the defendant.

"The reduction in staffing below the bargained minimum staffing level will leave the members of the union, members of the public and the fire department in hazard to their health and safety, and will cause unsafe responses to both emergency medical rescue and fire suppression calls within the jurisdiction of the district," the complaint reads.

The layoffs, combined with four vacancies that would remain unfilled, would cut the fire department force by nearly 42 percent. Firefighters would be staffed at a minimum of three per shift, rather than the five to seven per shift now.

A hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Aug. 11 in New London Superior Court. The layoffs would have already occurred, so the complaint asks the court to order the board to rescind them.

The union also filed a labor grievance on July 8, saying the fire district violated the contract by failing to adhere to minimum staffing levels. That matter will ultimately be heard by the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration, court documents say. But that process would take at least four to six months, the complaint says.

On Thursday, nearly 100 firefighters and their families marched from the Claude Chester Elementary School parking lot to Groton Senior Center to protest the layoffs, saying they would jeopardize public safety. The protesters had planned to pack a meeting of the fire district board, which announced the layoffs in June, but the meeting was canceled for lack of a quorum.

In the meantime, Poquonnock Bridge is also awaiting a decision by a Superior Court judge on whether it must honor a 10-year labor agreement with the union that includes annual wage increases of 3 percent. The Town of Groton petitioned on Jan. 15 to intervene in the appeal, saying the contract also affects the town pension system so it has a "direct and substantial interest" in the case.

A hearing on that case is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Aug. 12 in New Britain Superior Court.

d.straszheim@theday.com

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