Spano, firefighters avoid court in overtime battle

Firefighters from Ladder 71, one of two tower Firefighters from Ladder 71, one of two tower ladders with a bucket platform in the city, go through daily training exercises and an apparatus check on New School Street in Yonkers. (Aug. 6, 2012) Photo Credit: Leslie Barbaro

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Yonkers firefighters and Mayor Mike Spano will iron out their differences in front of an arbitrator instead of a judge, the firefighters union said Wednesday night.

The city appealed Aug. 6 after the State Supreme Court temporarily derailed Spano's plan to lower minimum staffing requirements, and both sides were set to meet Thursday before a judge.

Instead, Firefighters Local 628 announced Wednesday, Spano has agreed to sit down with firefighters and an independent arbitrator for an expedited ruling.

Until the issue of overtime is hashed out, Yonkers will maintain its minimum staffing level of 57 firefighters on duty per shift. Earlier in August, the State Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order barring Yonkers from implementing a new policy that Spano said would drastically reduce overtime costs.

Spano spokeswoman Christina Gilmartin was quick to point out the mayor hasn't reached an agreement with the union -- "The city is simply abiding by the temporary restraining order," Gilmartin said.

"The city is waiting for the arbitration hearing," she added.

Talks before an independent arbitrator are private, and neither side has said when those talks would happen.

Yonkers spent $8 million in overtime between the police and fire departments last year, according to Spano. The mayor long has accused city firefighters of abusing the overtime system to pad their paychecks and said his plan to reduce the minimum staffing requirements would save the city $5 million annually.

Firefighters argued that the policy would put the public in danger -- in addition to having fewer firefighters on duty, two fire engines would be taken off duty and two fire companies would close down temporarily if fewer than 57 firefighters showed up for work on a given shift. The plan, firefighters argued, would mean as few as 48 firefighters would work each shift.

"Reducing staffing and closing community fire companies endangers the citizens of Yonkers are sworn to protect," Barry McGoey, Local 628 president, said in a statement.

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