Firefighters' union needs to come back to the table and negotiate

The city and the fire union are currently locked in a dispute over drug and alcohol testing and other reforms that are critical for the future of the Fire Department. I am astounded by the union leaders' unwillingness to eliminate substance abuse and unethical personnel practices. For some reason, they refuse to be part of the solution - and that's a shame. It's such a disservice to the honorable men and women in that department. The residents of Boston deserve a fire department that has a random drug and alcohol testing policy for its members. This is a matter of public safety and a matter of public trust. I will not agree to a contract that does not include random drug and alcohol testing and I will not sign a contract that gives raises that are out of whack with what the city can afford. The Fire Department is in need of reform and the facts speak for themselves:

• The Boston Police unions agreed to drug and alcohol testing eight years ago. Examples of other major fire departments with testing include: Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Miami Beach, Milwaukee, New York City, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia, and Phoenix.

• Last year, the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association agreed to a contract with wage increases totaling 14 percent over four years. This is the exact same wage package the city proposed to the firefighters union, which they have rejected.

• In Calendar Year 2006 the average rank-and-file firefighter's salary was $71,247. This amount is higher than the average rank-and file police officer's, whose salary was $67,668 - and that includes Quinn Bill earnings

• The city has successfully re-negotiated over 80 percent of 41 union contracts. This includes unions like the Boston Teacher's Association and the patrolmen's association.

• During the last 10 years (1997-2007), city spending on the BFD grew more than for all other departmental spending, up by 64 percent. The number of uniformed firefighters is higher now than it was in FY 2004. However, overtime costs for Boston firefighters have skyrocketed - In FY '97 overtime costs came to approximately $6 million; in FY '07 overtime amounted to $16.8 million.

• The last two city budgets include approximately $8 million on new equipment and training for the BFD, including a completely new training facility on Moon Island. Fire Commissioner Rod Fraser also implemented an apparatus replacement policy upon his arrival. A contract has been fully executed to purchase six new fire trucks this year. Two new ladder trucks were purchased and delivered for the BFD in late December. They are Ladder 2 and Ladder 9 in East Boston and Charlestown.

The city's negotiating team began meeting with the fire union in April of 2006 and met with the union 18 times. Last August, the city asked the state to intervene as a mediator in an attempt to resolve the dispute. Since that time the union has opposed mediation and has refused to meet with the city's negotiating team. More than four months ago the city sent the union a drug and alcohol testing policy. The union did not respond and would not agree to meet and discuss the proposal. In the 21 months that have passed since negotiations began, the city has provided the union with more than six written proposals to resolve this dispute; to this day the union has never provided on written counter proposal. This is not good faith negotiations. The union needs to respond to the city's proposals, return to the table, and negotiate a contract that includes drug and alcohol testing.