Nantucket Fire Fighters Union Announces Opposition To Matt Fee’s Reelection Campaign

The Nantucket Fire Fighters Union is publicly opposing the candidacy of Select Board member Matt Fee, who is seeking his fourth consecutive term on the board in the annual town election in May. 

Island firefighters Jeff Allen, a department captain and union president, and Shane Perry, its vice president, told the Current on Sunday that Fee’s recent comments regarding town employee compensation prompted their position. While the union has rarely, if ever, entered the local political arena with an endorsement or statement of opposition against a candidate, they said Fee’s comments last Wednesday and his “anti-town-employee” stance over the years led to the decision to come out publicly against him. 

“We’ve never been involved in local politics, but after the most recent comments by Mr. Fee and comments he’s been making over the years with his anti-town employee position, we said enough’s enough,” Allen said. “We can’t support him anymore.”

Following the town human resources director Amanda Perry’s presentation last Wednesday on employee recruitment, retention and vacant positions, Fee applauded her for providing the information, but then made a statement that caught the attention of the fire fighters union. 

“With the pension, the amount people are paid plus the pension, they’re at a very good rate of pay, and when you look at the amount of money you would have to have to equal a lot of what the town pays, it would be substantial,” Fee said. “It’s similar to what a lawyer on Nantucket makes, and I think people don’t recognize that.” (see a recording of his full comments here)

Matt Fee

In the aftermath of the meeting, a video clip of Fee’s comments was circulated among the membership of the fire fighters union as some objected to any suggestion that a firefighter’s compensation was on par with those of island attorneys. Allen and Perry then sent a message out to Local 2509 members indicating their intention to announce the union’s formal opposition to Fee’s candidacy. While there was no formal vote taken, they said, there were no objections to the message they distributed to the union membership. 

“That’s pretty tone deaf, it’s ill-informed and uneducated regarding our hard-working town employees,” Allen said. “He’s obviously ill-informed about what we’re getting paid. The last time we checked, town labor attorneys were making north of $200 per hour.”

Fee told the Current on Sunday that his comments were intended to tout the benefits of working for the town in hopes of attracting applicants to its numerous open positions. He said he was disappointed to hear that the union had taken such a stance given his track record on the town Finance Committee that endorsed additional annual payments by taxpayers to cover future pension payouts for municipal employees. 

“My comment was attempting to encourage more applicants to the town because the town is offering good benefits and the pension is a great deal,” Fee said. “It was not anti-union. If they’re taking aim at me, it’s a little disappointing because when I was on the FinCom, the shortage of funding available for the pensions is the reason we’ve been putting money away for them.”

The Local 2509 fire fighters union is in the midst of a protracted contract negotiation with the town, which recently came to a stalemate and is now headed to arbitration. But that factor did not play a role in the union’s decision to publicly oppose Fee’s candidacy, Allen and Perry said. His comments, they emphasized, were the latest in a pattern that reflected a disconnect between what the town considers appropriate compensation and a true living wage for Nantucket. 

“You can’t sit back and allow this to continue year after year. We said we’ve got to get involved,” Perry said. “If you think of the big picture, if town employees across the board were being paid a reasonable, living wage, the Select Board meeting wouldn’t have had the topic of employee retention and hiring.”

Allen and Perry specifically mentioned the recent loss of one of their colleagues, firefighter/EMT Jordan Seitz, who left the Nantucket Fire Department last year to join the Hyannis Fire Department. They said Seitz immediately earned a $20,000 pay increase above what he was making on Nantucket, and was able to buy a home on the Cape. 

“It broke his heart to leave the place where he grew up, but he said ‘I have to do what’s right for my family’,” Allen said. “Our members start at $27 per hour, and that’s not enough to get beyond living in your childhood bedroom or in tenement housing with 27 other people. So Matt Fee thinks the benefits package here is an attractor to retain employees? There’s this attitude that we’re getting paid too much and sitting pretty. That’s not right. His comments were a shot across our bow, and enough’s enough.” 

While the fire union is publicly opposing Fee, it has not yet endorsed any other candidates, although it is still early in the election cycle. Nomination papers only became available last week, and so far, only one challenger, Brooke Mohr, has indicated her intention to run for a Select Board seat. The other incumbent besides Fee, Kristie Ferrantella, has not yet indicated whether she will seek reelection. The union is still considering whether to endorse other candidates. 

“We’re going to look at Brooke Mohr and Kristie, if she runs again, and we encourage town employees to get involved,” Allen said. 

Read more about the Nantucket Fire Department’s FY2023 budget and staff compensation by clicking here. 

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