WATERTOWN — High Street resident Anna M. Zayas believes it’s time for the community to come together in support of the city’s firefighters, who have been working without a contract for the past three years.
She’s helping to organize a rally this weekend to back the Watertown Professional Fire Fighters Association Local 191 while it’s embroiled in a three-year contract dispute with the city.
The rally will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. on Sunday at the Watertown Veterans of Foreign Wars, 231 Bellew Ave.
“They go out there and risk their lives every day,” Ms. Zayas said. “The city keeps saying people want to cut the fire department. No they don’t.”
Last year, she and some friends put together the local Red Lights For Firefighters Facebook page. They say that they’ve seen that the situation has gotten worse as the labor dispute goes unresolved.
Ms. Zayas stressed that she and the other rally organizers do not have any close association with firefighters — none are among her family members or immediate friends.
Daniel Daugherty, president of the firefighters union, said the bargaining unit welcomes the support from the residents. But the union will not officially be represented at the rally, saying its members do not want to give ammunition that can be used against it in litigation.
The union and the city are in the midst of a series of legal actions that are still in the courts and with the Public Employees Relations Board. Ms. Zayas has invited all five City Council candidates to attend the rally. So far, two council challengers, Ryan Henry-Wilkinson and Cliff Olney III, have indicated they will be there, she said.
The contract battle has become a campaign issue in the City Council primary race between five candidates.
The main sticking point with the dispute is a stipulation that 15 firefighters must be on the job at all times. City officials contend that the fire department was top-heavy with officers. The union argues that it would be unsafe to cut positions.
The union has been without a contract since July 2014.
Ms. Zayas had hoped to organize a rally last summer but it had to be delayed, she said.