Joe Piccone, a union representative for Fairfield firefighters, stands Thursday outside the fire station at 15 Lawrence Ave. The union and town are at odds over a disbursement to firefighters using federal pandemic relief funds. Amy Calder/Morning Sentinel

FAIRFIELD — The union representing Fairfield’s full-time firefighters has filed a complaint with the Maine Labor Relations Board because the town has deducted $750 from their latest paychecks over a dispute involving federal American Rescue Plan Act funds that were due them.

Teamsters Local Union No. 340 also filed a grievance with the town over the deducted pay, which Joe Piccone, the union business agent and recording secretary, said the firefighters earned as part of their regular jobs.

“They took it. They deducted $750 unilaterally,” Piccone said Thursday. “No employer should be able to do that. They can’t do that.”

The complaint with the state labor board is more precisely an accusation of “prohibited practice,” claiming the town pursued an action that employers are prohibited from doing, such as discrimination or retaliation.

The union, which Piccone said represents eight full-time firefighters, had asked that firefighters be awarded money from the American Rescue Plan Act. Town councilors voted last month to give firefighters $3,000 each in ARPA funds as premium pay for the hazardous work they did during the coronavirus pandemic, Piccone said.

The council voted to allocate the pay quarterly, in $750 payments, but Piccone said the town was supposed to go back to the union for approval on how the money was to be disbursed, and then continue negotiating a three-year contract that had expired in July.


Instead, the town put $750 in firefighters’ payroll accounts and sent Piccone a memorandum of understanding to be signed regarding that. He replied that the union would not sign it and should continue negotiations.

“The town manager sent a memo to the crew saying the town would take back the $750 because we wouldn’t sign the MOU (memorandum of understanding),” Piccone said.

Meanwhile, firefighters earlier received $750 in extra pay and say they have spent that money on bills and other needs, and the town deducted $750 from each check firefighters received Wednesday, according to Piccone.

“I’ve never had this happen,” he said. “I’ve been involved in union negotiations over 35 years. I’ve never had anyone say, ‘We’re taking the money.’ It’s literally such a slap in these guys’ face.”

Town Manager Michelle Flewelling offered a different view of the matter Thursday, saying the Town Council voted Sept. 28 to give town employees “bonuses” with ARPA funds, to be allocated quarterly and in a fair and consistent way.

“They wanted to do something for our staff throughout the course of the next year,” Flewelling said, “because we understand the economy has changed, and our budget was set back in May.”


Town councilors agreed on $3,000 for full-time municipal workers, $1,500 for part-time employees and $750 for those working fewer than 20 hours a week, she said, adding the money is not considered hazard pay or first responder pay.

Originally, the funding was described as “retention bonuses,” Flewelling said.

“At the last moment, they dropped the word ‘retention,’ so it was just bonuses for all employees,” she said. “When you have contracted unions, you can’t take things away or give anything, so we put together a MOU between the town and three different unions: police, public works and firefighters.”

She said the unions representing police and public works employees signed off on the memorandum of understanding, but the firefighters’ union did not.

“On the 18th, I was told they were going to file a prohibited practice complaint with the bureau of labor relations against the town for not negotiating payment or terms of payment,” Flewelling said, “because the town unilaterally decided partial payment of a negotiable item is acceptable.”

Flewelling agreed with Piccone about the disbursement of money without the town and union agreeing on it.


“They’re correct,” Flewelling said. “The union members shouldn’t have received payment without the MOUs in place.”

But Flewelling maintains the town decides how the ARPA money is disbursed, not the union, and the money should not be considered part of a union contract.

When the firefighters’ union did not sign off on the MOU, firefighters were notified last week the bonuses were coming back to the town until the matter can be negotiated with the union, according to Flewelling.

“Hopefully, the union will talk with us and figure out what it is that they want,” she said.

Flewelling said the situation is “terrible” because the Town Council appreciates municipal staff members and wants them to have bonuses for all the work they have done and challenges they have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bonuses were a way of thanking them.

“We want to keep the staff,” she said. “The town of Fairfield and I value our Fire Department staff, and hopefully this matter can be rectified for them quickly. The worst part about it is it’s the firefighters that are ultimately suffering.”

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