Waltham police, firefighters unions vote no-confidence in mayor

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WALTHAM — A dispute between Waltham’s mayor and the city’s public safety officers came to a head Wednesday night when unions for the police and fire departments announced a vote of no-confidence in Jeannette A. McCarthy.

The unions say the confrontation is not about money, but concerns safety and deplorable working conditions. McCarthy, the mayor, said the dispute is about a union contract.

“It’s horrible,” said Bob Davis, a 21-year-veteran of the Waltham Fire Department and city resident. “I’ve been on a truck that actually broke down while we were driving. It was dangerous.”

During the thick of a contested mayoral race, Waltham’s firefighters, patrolmen’s, and police superior officers unions held a press conference at their headquarters to announce the no-confidence vote.

Union leaders said the vote comes after years of asking the mayor to improve working conditions for Waltham’s public safety workers, which they claim have gone unheeded.

McCarthy, however, said the vote is a response to a recent campaign flier in which she attacked union leaders over labor negotiations.

Both sides, though, acknowledge Waltham’s public safety facilities may need extensive work that could cost millions of dollars.

In photographs shown at the press conference, firetrucks had duct tape holding together windows, and firefighters told stories of trucks breaking down when they were making a rescue. Mold is growing in lockers, officials said, and trucks cannot hold necessary equipment.

Sergeant John Brooks, president of the Waltham Police Superior Officers Union, lamented that cruisers have logged more than 132,000 miles. Also, he said, officers inside those vehicles are using laptops that the federal government called outdated and warned were susceptible to hackers.

“We cannot allow us to continue working in these unsafe vehicles we have now,” Brooks said. “We’ve asked and asked and asked.”

McCarthy, who spoke to The Boston Globe before the press conference but did not attend it, decried the allegations as politically motivated.

The unions are retaliating for the campaign flier, in which McCarthy said she “told the taxpayers the truth” about labor negotiations. McCarthy said union officials wanted a long-term pay increase that totaled about $11 million, which she successfully defeated.

Brooks and John Ferrick, president of the Waltham Professional Firefighters Union, denied they requested the pay increase.

“They want me out. Period,” McCarthy said. “And they want my opponent in because he’s promised them the world.”

McCarthy faces a stiff reelection challenge on Nov. 3 from state Representative Thomas M. Stanley.

The firefighters union has endorsed Stanley in the election and donated $500 to his campaign, union officials said. The union had previously endorsed McCarthy, who was first elected in 2003.

“They don’t like that I told the public the truth,” McCarthy said. “I represent the taxpayers.”

McCarthy did not contest that more could be done to improve working conditions for city workers, but was steadfast in claiming the press conference timing was political. She said she has spent $5 million on renovations for the police and fire departments, and also she provided e-mails from Waltham’s fire chief praising her record on firefighter safety.

In response to the unions’ specific claims, McCarthy said she needed more information.

Billy MacDonald Sr., a retired firefighter who worked in Waltham for about 38 years, said he had never seen working conditions so poor.

Steve Centofanti, vice president of the firefighters union, said: “This is not something we wanted to do, but it’s something we had to do.”

Astead W. Herndon can be reached at astead.herndon
@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH.

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2015/10/21/waltham-police-firefighters-unions-vote-confidence-mayor/DCZSNwG699euwiUY0fO2yL/story.html