STAMFORD – Citing a dozen counts, the International Association of Fire Fighters voted during its four-day convention this week to censure Stamford Fire Chief Trevor Roach and Assistant Chief Miguel Robles.
On behalf of Local 786, which represents Stamford professional firefighters, IAFF members at their annual convention in Ontario, Canada, unanimously approved a resolution rebuking Roach and Robles for what they deem union offenses, including:
- Improper handling of promotions;
- Collecting pensions and salaries simultaneously;
- Collecting pensions at higher rates than they’re due;
- Firing the former Local 786 president after he questioned their pensions;
- Improper response to a partial collapse at the Allure apartment building;
- Failing to assign an acting chief while they were on leave from their command positions.
Paul Anderson, the Stamford Local 786 president attending the convention in Ottawa, said 1,800 delegates representing 330,ooo firefighters in the U.S. and Canada approved the resolution.
Notice of the censures of Roach and Robles will be distributed to Stamford Mayor Caroline Simmons, the Stamford Board of Representatives, the International Association of Fire Chiefs, the executive committee of the AFL-CIO, and all IAFF locals, he said.
Anderson said he spoke to Simmons about the censures on Thursday.
“This is meant to urge the mayor to take action, to bring light to the fact that her fire department is in turmoil, that we’ve got a toxic relationship with the chiefs and it’s not healthy for the fire department,” Anderson said. “We have no confidence in their ability to lead. This is anti-union behavior that won’t be tolerated.”
Roach responded Friday by saying the allegations in the censure are the same as those that Local 786 brought in June, when members voted to declare no confidence in Roach and Robles.
“These allegations hold the same level of truthfulness now as they did then – they are simply untrue,” Roach said. “I would prefer President Anderson to work on a professional atmosphere … which would lead to a contract for his people. Local 786 is the bargaining unit with the longest expired contract with the city. We continue to reach out to President Anderson to no avail.”
In the resolution presented to the IAFF, the Stamford union cited a lawsuit, settled in June, that was the culmination of a four-year legal battle in which four firefighters charged that fire officials overlooked carefully calculated exam scores and decided promotions using their own criteria.
The city agreed in the settlement to pay the firefighters a total of $250,000 and admitted no wrongdoing, but during the case the court ruled that the firefighters were not fairly considered for promotion.
The IAFF resolution includes another issue the Stamford union has with Roach and Robles.
The two applied for their pension benefits in April 2020, began receiving them on May 1, 2020 and the next day took their positions as chief and assistant chief, the resolution reads.
The city allows the fire chief and assistant chief, who are not union members, to collect their pensions even as they draw salaries under post-retirement employment contracts.
Leaders of Local 786 contend that the city is obligated to negotiate with the union any time a policy affects the firefighters’ pension fund.
Roach and Robles have said that they applied to begin receiving their pension benefits after each had served 4 years in a chief’s role, as city policy allows. They said the pension board approved their pensions unanimously, and the board was not led to believe that they were retiring.
The IAFF censure resolution raises other issues.
It says that a former Local 786 president, Brendan Keatley, challenged the practice of allowing the top brass to collect pensions and payroll checks at the same time. Roach retaliated by taking a number of disciplinary actions against Keatley that culminated in Keatley’s termination one year ago, according to the resolution. Roach said at the time that Keatley, who was a deputy fire marshal, was fired for creating false reports about how much time he spent inspecting buildings.
The union grieved Keatley’s termination and won “a favorable settlement,” according to the resolution. Anderson said the city withdrew Keatley’s termination and he was allowed to retire.
But the union’s beefs with Roach and Robles don’t end there.
Local 786 is disputing the amounts of their pensions, saying the rates were calculated to include years when they’d already been promoted out of the union. Local 786 filed a lawsuit in November saying Roach and Robles are violating the fire department’s pension plan, according to the resolution.
Roach and Robles have said they each contributed an employee share to the pension fund based on their chiefs’ salaries before they began collecting benefits.
The IAFF resolution includes a count stemming from a partial building collapse at the Allure apartment high-rise in Harbor Point on Feb. 1. Despite the potential danger, Robles failed to call for a fire company, the resolution states.
Roach and Robles have said that all necessary actions were taken, and safety measures were in place to address any further risks.
The resolution also cites a May 16 incident when, according to Local 786, Roach and Robles failed to designate an acting fire chief when they were both on leave.
Roach said he and Robles were in Washington, D.C., attending a White House ceremony honoring three Stamford firefighters, and the Justice Department required that they keep the visit secret to avoid leaks. They notified the mayor and public safety director before they left, Roach said.
The IAFF, formed in 1918, is a labor union representing more than 330,000 professional firefighters and paramedics in the U.S. and Canada, according to its website. With more than 3,500 affiliates, IAFF members protect 85 percent of the populations of U.S. and Canadian municipalities.
During the convention, IAFF members passed dozens of resolutions, including ones to change the rules for convention committees, allow the executive board to meet by video conference, set goals for expanding membership, and advance emergency medical services as a profession.
The resolutions included censures against four fire chiefs, two mayors, two elected officials, and a group of airport executives.
IAFF members, for example, censured First Deputy Chief Jack Andrade of the Kansas City, Kansas, fire department for demanding that Local 64 firefighters inspect all 7,000 hydrants in the city, even though it was the work of another union. They say Andrade altered salaries, work hours and family leave, improperly engaged in contract negotiations, and harassed union members.
IAFF members censured Mayor Anthony Copeland of East Chicago, Indiana, for setting a schedule requiring firefighters to work seven days a week in a daily rotation of day, afternoon, and midnight shifts, and for closing a fire station so the schedule could be implemented.
IAFF members censured Congressman Andy Harris of Maryland for not supporting 18 legislative initiatives before Congress, including the Fire Fighter Cancer Registry Act and permanent authorization of the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund.
Simmons’ spokeswoman, Lauren Meyer, said in an email that the administration “is interested in continuing a productive dialogue with union leadership and the fire chiefs to ensure the public safety of Stamford residents” and to finalize a firefighters contract.