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Groton's Poquonnock Bridge Fire District board to look again at mediated plan to settle with union

Groton - The Poquonnock Bridge Fire District board voted Thursday to reconsider the rejection of a proposal that would have ended pending litigation with the union, returned nine laid-off firefighters to work and led to a new, shorter-term contract with firefighters.

The decision came one day after union members learned of the rejection of a tentative agreement reached between the two sides during a series of mediation sessions. The two sides had already butted heads in court over the legitimacy of a 10-year labor agreement signed by a previous board in 2012. A decision by a judge in that case is pending.

Board member Peter Legnos said the board had been under the impression it could not go back for a public vote on costs associated with the agreement, which was part of the reason the agreement was ultimately rejected. Following an unscheduled executive session with district attorney F. Jerome O'Malley at Thursday's meeting, Legnos said members may have had some misinformation.

"Hopefully we can get this thing moving in the right direction and get it back to the public," Legnos said after the meeting. "The decision may have been based on some assumptions that may not be correct. We want to do the right thing."

It is unclear when the board might meet again, though Legnos said they intended to move quickly.

Local union President Mark Murphy, who earlier said firefighters were stunned by the news the tentative agreement might not be honored, said he was glad for the reconsideration.

Murphy and other union members had questioned how a signed agreement could have been rejected without a public meeting.

Board President Alan Ackley said that according to Freedom of Information law, any meetings involving contract negotiations were "out of the public sphere" and did not require a public meeting or notice.

Murphy said the point of the mediation, from the union's perspective, was getting laid-off firefighters back to work and boosting the minimum manpower requirements back to a five-man minimum for the safety of firefighters and protection of the public.

Murphy said the union had agreed to a host of concessions, including a revamped four-year contract which dropped the previously approved cost-of-living adjustments for retirees.

The request would need approval from district taxpayers who previously approved a much-reduced budget that led to the layoffs.

The department, because of reductions in the budget, currently responds to calls with a minimum of three firefighters. It no longer has a working ladder truck, and its remaining engine carries a ladder that can reach up to the second floor. It also closed one of its two fire stations as a cost-saving measure.

g.smith@theday.com

Twitter: @SmittyDay

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