“It is illegal, bad faith bargaining for a union to bypass a town’s designated bargaining representative by going to Town Meeting on collective bargaining issues,” the charge reads.

HUDSON – Town officials want the firefighters union to yank a Town Meeting measure aimed at improving staffing on shifts.

The article in question, to which more than 100 residents signed their support, is rooted in a months-long debate over staffing at the Fire Department.

At the annual spring Town Meeting, voters approved a citizens’ petition, put forward by a dozen union members, to increase the town’s minimum staffing from six to seven firefighters. According to legal documents, the union had previously asked for this increase in negotiations but eventually agreed to a contract without the increase.

Hudson approves minimum staffing increase

Town officials declined to implement the Town Meeting-approved measure, saying the vote was not legally binding, and that the article did not include money to pay for it.

“I think it’s very frustrating,” Hudson firefighter union President Jeff Chaves said. “It’s a citizen-petitioned article. It’s not a union-petitioned article. They’re trying to basically censure and not hear the wishes of the townspeople.”

Hudson Fire Department minimum staffing remains at six

Residents pushed back, securing the necessary signatures to put a similar article on the upcoming Nov. 18 Town Meeting warrant, this time designating $100,000 “from available funds.” The dollar amount comes from an estimate Executive Assistant Tom Moses gave.

“It’s a resident of this town doing exactly what the town administrator has asked somebody to do,” said resident Shawn Sadowski, who is not a firefighter, of the fall minimum staffing article.

That’s when the town filed a charge of prohibited practice with the state Department of Labor Relations, against the union.

“It is illegal, bad faith bargaining for a union to bypass a town’s designated bargaining representative by going to town meeting on collective bargaining issues,” the charge reads.

The charge asks the state to issue a cease-and-desist order to the union, and for the withdrawal of the fall Town Meeting article.

Chaves said the town has refused to negotiate minimum manning during collective bargaining.

Additionally, Chaves said he and other firefighters signed onto both articles as citizens, not union members. He also pointed out that the November article has more than 100 people on it, only 17 of whom are firefighters.

“I have elderly parents who have lived in this town for over 50 years, and I’m concerned whether or not something happens to their two-story house, and there’s no ladder truck to get to the second floor,” said Sadowski, on why he signed the petition. “That’s an issue for me.”

Sadowski was referring to the union’s “brown out” notifications for its tower truck – a large engine with a long ladder. The tower truck can’t be used immediately when the department is at minimum staffing. Off-duty firefighters have to be called in first.

Firefighters shouldn’t be prohibited from exercising their rights as Hudson residents just because they are also union members, Chaves said.

“They’re residents of Hudson as well,” he said.

Hudson applied for a federal grant that would increase staffing, but Moses said he had not heard whether the town got the grant yet. He referred comment on the charge of prohibited practice to the town’s attorney in the case, who was not available on Friday.

Chaves said he’d love to see both an increase in minimum staffing and an increase in the ranks, but that the minimum staffing requirement is the cheaper option.

“This is a step toward running safer,” he said, “upping the minimum manning with the least cost to the town.”

The charge against the union was filed Sept. 13, and tentative dates for “in-person investigation” are Nov. 19 or Nov. 21, with possible mediation to follow.

Alison Bosma can be reached at 508-634-7582 or abosma@wickedlocal.com. Find her on Twitter at @AlisonBosma.