City, Firefighters Iron Out New 5-Year Union Contract

Prior contract negotiations between the city and both police and fire unions were at times rancorous, leading to bouts of arbitration and even delays related to litigation.

Labor Peace: The city’s firefighters’ union has come to terms on a new contract that will run through Dec. 31, 2028. Both public safety unions are now operating under new agreements. Photo Christian Falcone
Published June 7, 2024 2:31 PM
4 min read

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The city has reached a new five-year labor agreement with its paid firefighters, bringing both public safety unions under contract for the long haul.

The deal with the firefighters’ union, Rye Professional Firefighters Local 2029, is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2024, and will run through Dec. 31, 2028. The contract includes wage increases of 2.75 percent in 2024, 3 percent in 2025 and 2026, 3.25% in 2027, and 3 percent in 2028 for the department’s 21 paid firefighters.

The union agreed to terms on May 8 before the contract was approved by the City Council on May 15. The previous firefighters’ contract expired on Dec. 31, 2023.

“I am very pleased to have reached such a timely and successful arrangement with the Firefighters’ Union,” said City Manager Greg Usry, Rye’s lead negotiator in contract talks. “The Union leadership was constructive and collaborative throughout the process.”

According to union president Ricky Colasacco, who took over the reins from Clyde Pitts in 2022, negotiations with city representatives didn’t start until a February Zoom meeting, but wrapped up soon thereafter.

“You know, getting it done in a relatively quick manner is what I believe to be a testament of the city’s commitment to addressing fire department-related issues,” said Colasacco.

Additional terms stipulate $100 increases for each step in longevity pay as well as a uniform allowance and the addition of Juneteenth, June 19, as an approved holiday – increasing the number of holiday hours from 104 to 112.

Finalizing the contract also means the city has now locked up lengthy labor deals for both public safety sectors. In late February, city officials reached a five-year agreement with its police union, a deal that included wage increases similar to those in the firefighters’ contract.

Usry said those agreements put the city in a strong position, providing “budget certainty” and eliminating the need for “added costs associated with longer negotiations.”

Prior contract negotiations between the city and both police and fire unions were at times rancorous, leading to bouts of arbitration and even delays related to litigation.

Colasacco, a fire department member since October 2020, credited the change to his relationship with city administration officials — calling it the best it has been in “a long time” — echoing recent comments made to The Record by the current police union leadership.

“The city’s commitment to us has been very good and is really propelling us to the level that we need to get to,” he said.

The volunteer base of the Rye Fire Department has dwindled over the years with only 5-10 volunteers now showing up to calls.
Photo Christian Falcone

The city has a composite fire department, blending paid firefighters with volunteers. But the city has shifted away from that model as the number of active volunteers has dwindled over the years, down to as few as 25 in 2024. Only five to 10 of those volunteers go out on calls, accord- ing to Usry.

A shrinking volunteer base is an issue facing departments across the U.S.

More than 80 percent of the nation’s fire departments are made up entirely or mostly of volunteers, according to the National Fire Protection Association. And volunteers represent 65 percent of all U.S. firefighters. But participation has dwindled, from nearly 900,000 volunteers in 1984 to a low of 677,000 in 2020.

According to a report issued by a New York state task force in December 2022, there were 20,000 more volunteer firefighters across the state 20 years ago, yet the call volume has almost doubled over the past 30 years – from 750,000 to 1. 4 million.

“You know, there’s times where we have one person on an engine and it’s just very difficult for us to do our job effectively that way,” Colasacco said. “Obviously, staffing is still an issue.”

In recent years, the city has beefed up its paid ranks as part of unprecedented changes within the fire department, including the creation of a public safety commissioner in charge of both police and fire operations. But running a paid fire department also comes at a financial cost for municipalities. The department’s budget this year is $7.8 million, including $3.3 million in salaries – accounting for 6.9 percent of the total city budget.

The city created the commissioner position in 2016 by public referendum. The following year, Rye’s top cop, Michael Corcoran, was promoted to oversee both public safety units. Corcoran resigned in 2018.

Michael Kopy, the former director of emergency management and a state police chief under ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo, was hired as public safety commissioner in 2022. Kopy also has served as a volunteer firefighter in Mamaroneck, where he lives.

The fire department, under Kopy, has initiated a restructuring, including the addition of five new lieutenants and the creation of a career captain position.

“Mr. Kopy has been an asset to us,” Colasacco said. “Because of that restructuring, we hope to continue … to build up the rank and file here. It’s been really an important change for this department.”

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