By Beth David, Editor
In a 2-1 vote, the Fairhaven Selectboard approved the amendment to the wage and classification plan to include the water and sewer superintendents at its meeting on Wednesday, 2/27. In a lengthy discussion that got contentious at times, the Selectboard, members of the Board of Public Works, and Public Works Superintendent Vinnie Furtado re-hashed the arguments, all the while being careful not to use the name of the Sewer Superintendent, Linda Schick. But clearly, her contract was the issue.
The problem is that the two superintendents should have been included in the W&C plan from the beginning because they did not have contracts when it was adopted. The oversight seems to have come from an assumption that they had contracts. In 2018 both of them entered into contracts, with Ms. Schick’s resulting in an 8% increase for her, raising her salary to $94,326. If included in the W&C plan, her wage would be at level 20, step 7, $98,779. The numbers are a little different than the last meeting. Town Administrator Mark Rees told the board that it should be step 7 not 9 as previously discussed, a difference of about $3,000.
After the contracts were signed, Mr. Furtado discovered that the contracts were invalid, that the BPW had no authority to create them. There is a provision in the bylaws, however, that allows the town administrator to request that the Selectboard accept the contract.
Mr. Rees declined to do so at the last meeting when it was discussed (Neighb News issue 1/31/1).
Selectboard Chairperson Daniel Freitas started the 2/27 discussion by asking Mr. Rees if he would recommend that they accept the contract.
He said “no.”
BPW member Robert “Hoppy” Hobson said the raises amount to about 17% for the sewer superintendent. He said he is on the negotiating committee for the union and asked how could negotiated a contract for 2–3% when other people were getting so much more.
“It doesn’t make any sense to me,” said Mr. Hobson, adding that water and sewer rates would have to go up to pay for the pay increases. “We’re passing out step raises in this town like they’re going out of style.”
Mr. Furtado told the board that the non-union people had been neglected for a long time. He said that several of his employees had been at the top step for many years, including the sewer superintendent who has been at the top step for 23 years.
He explained how the mistake happened and how it got caught. He said the two contracts were invalid, and not amending the W&C to include the two positions would treat those two employees differently.
“It just happened circumstantially,” said Mr. Furtado, adding that they “fell through the cracks.”
Mr. Freitas, however, was not buying it. He said several times that he knew that the sewer superintendent, the “position,” asked for the contract, then asked to get out of the contract when she decided the numbers were “better over there.”
Then he asked what they got back when they negotiated the contract. He said when negotiating with the unions the town always asks for something back, boots, uniform allowance, something.
The two went back and forth for a bit, with Mr. Furtado seeming confused because the two positions did not have a contract to negotiate on to begin with.
“This opens up a can of worms,” said Mr. Freitas. “I don’t care what you say,” he added, the contract was something that was not “shoved down” the position’s throat, it was asked for, he said.
Mr. Freitas said anyone who does not like a contract can just go to the town administrator and say they do not want it anymore and rip it up.
Mr. Furtado reiterated that the contract was not valid, it was not because the employee did not like it.
Mr. Freitas reiterated that if Mr. Rees recommended it, though, the Selectboard could vote on it and make it valid.
“I know it’s the position not the person,” said Mr. Freitas. “That’s exactly the problem.”
He said it was entered into by asking and then got out of by the person asking.
“The taxpayers are paying the difference,” said Mr. Freitas.
BPW candidate Frank Coelho approached the board with a number of documents that outlined the town’s switch from one system to the other. Somewhere in the mix, the language is conflicting about who is in charge of employees at the BPW: is it the TA or the Superintendent?
Mr. Coelho asked the board to hold off on the vote until Town Meeting when an article submitted by the BPW would clear up that language. He said the BPW should be separate from town hall, and voters opted to keep it that way in a town-wide vote.
After more back and forth, Mr. Freitas asked Mr. Furtado if he thought the person would want the change if the numbers were reversed.
Mr. Furtado said probably not but that he would still be asking because it was the right thing to do, not to discriminate against “those two.”
Mr. Freitas took issue with the word “discriminate” saying the word had been “thrown at” him.
He said it would be discrimination to do this for the one position and not everyone in town.
The W&C however, was a townwide plan created after a consultant was hired to study all positions.
Selectboard member Charles Murphy wanted to be sure that Mr. Furtado would still be in charge of personnel at the BPW if they voted to amend the W&C.
Mr. Furtado answered that the language was “squirrelly,” that is why the BPW has an article at TM.
Mr. Rees said that nothing would change at BPW, Mr. Furtado would still be in charge.
“As long as you are their supervisor,” Mr. Murphy told Mr. Furtado.
Selectboard member Bob Espindola said it was not the same to compare union contracts to department head contracts. He said the W&C plan was created to compare Fairhaven town employees to other towns, not to each other.
“It’s been a very long time coming,” said Mr. Espindola, an early advocate of the plan, adding that salaries have been on hold a long time.
Mr. Rees noted that the fire and police department unions were also reclassified a few years ago, resulting in some substantial raises in those departments, too.
“So I see no distinctions,” he said.
Mr. Espindola said the point is that the classifications were created by an unbiased consultant. Some people got significant raises, others did not. He said he would like to wait until Town Counsel could be there, but Mr. Rees noted that TC’s opinion was very clear.
Mr. Espindola asked Mr. Rees what he thought about waiting until Town Meeting.
“I think you continue to treat these two employees unfairly if you do that,” answered Mr. Rees.
“I just don’t know how you can say that,” said Mr. Freitas.
“I didn’t throw a dart,” said Mr. Furtado, noting that the town hired a consultant, presumably a person with expertise in the area.
Mr. Freitas said that one person was deciding that the contract was null and void, is dead: “One person, not the board. End of story.”
So we need to wait for Town Counsel,” asked Mr. Coelho.
“That person is here,” said Mr. Freitas.
“That person is me,” said Mr. Rees.
Mr. Murphy made a motion to approve the amendment to the W&C plan. Mr. Freitas made a motion to keep the contract in force.
Mr. Espindola seconded Mr. Murphy’s motion, and noted that he only got two calls on the matter. The increase in rates would be minimal, he said and Mr. Furtado did a “really good job” explaining the situation.”
“It’s the right thing to do,” said Mr. Espindola.
The measure passed 2-1, with Mr. Freitas opposed.
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