North Kingstown firefighters would be suiting up for the start of the 24-hour-long shift structure today, kicking off a new work week that would total 56 hours. But, the new schedule won't be implemented for a few more days as town officials and members of the fire department's union head to court next week.
The North Kingstown Fire Department's union Local 1651 filed an unfair labor charge back in December when discussion to change the firefighters' schedules began. A suit filed against the Town of North Kingstown by the union cites that the Town Council violated the town charter, firefighters' arbitration act and labor laws when it passed the shift change in a 3-2 vote Jan. 31, 2012.
The two sides will be in Washington County Superior Court on Tuesday for an injunction regarding a temporary restraining order against the town, pushing back the implementation of the shift change to March 11 at the earliest, says Fire Union President Ray Furtado.
"If implemented, the irreparable harm that will be done to the firefighters from a financial and family standpoint will be immeasurable," said Furtado. "For those of us with families, our spouses become single parents one out of every three days."
The new shift change would require members of the North Kingstown Fire Department to work 24-hour shifts (instead of the current 10- and 14-hour shifts) followed by 48 hours off. The restructuring would also result in a 56-hour work week, adding 14 hours to firefighters' work weeks. According to Town Manager Michael Embury, the restructuring could lead to savings in the neighborhood of $800,000 to $1.1 million.
Though no firefighters have left the department following the council's vote, Furtado says a number of firefighters are "contemplating retirement."