Poquonnock Bridge board rejects deal to put laid off firefighters back to work

Groton - Up until Wednesday, firefighters in the Poquonnock Bridge Fire Department believed they had worked out an agreement to reconfigure a widely criticized 10-year labor agreement and return to work the nine firefighters laid off by the district in July.

Hopes of a return to full strength and an end to litigation quickly evaporated, however, with an email from the district's attorney, F. Jerome O'Malley, according to recently elected union President Mark Murphy.

The email was notification that the fire district board had rejected the tentative agreement.

The agreement was signed by representatives from both sides on Sept. 9 following a series of out-of-court meetings between the two sides and a state mediator.

Settlement talks began shortly after the district board challenged, through an appeal in Superior Court, the union's 10-year contract with associated raises that had been signed by a previous district board in 2012. It had passed by a 2-1 vote.

Murphy said the tentative agreement called for a new four-year labor contract that would expire in 2016. Murphy said the union gave up a lieutenant's position, the six-man minimum requirement and cost of living adjustments for retirees. A copy of the agreement was not immediately available.

"It just really came down to trying to get the nine guys back," Murphy said. "We'd like to at least keep what we had. Both sides met with a mediator to hash out a deal amenable for both sides. We came to an agreement. Both sides signed the agreement."

Murphy said the union unanimously ratified the agreement within days of its signing and had awaited a vote by the district board followed by a public meeting to fund the contract.

But a special meeting never came, and the item was never listed on any district board agenda.

The union is now questioning what happened and will seek answers at tonight's meeting at 7 p.m. at the fire department's station at 45 Fort Hill Road.

"The letter sent out today from their attorney was that they do not agree with the (tentative agreement) and will not be following it. Did you have a meeting? If so, when was it? Where was it?" Murphy said. "Those are the things we are trying to answer. We don't know how they came to that conclusion. We have no idea."

Ron Yuhas, a member of the district board and mediation team, declined comment and referred all questions to Board President Alan Ackley. Ackley did not return calls seeking comment.

Attorney O'Malley also declined comment but confirmed he had notified the union's attorney of the board's rejection of the tentative agreement.

No specific agenda items are listed on tonight's meeting agenda.

g.smith@theday.com

Twitter: @SmittyDay

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