LAWRENCE -- An appreciation dinner for first-responders involved in the Sept. 13, 2018 Merrimack Valley gas disaster has been cancelled by Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera after Lawrence firefighters said they would picket and boycott the event this week. 

Hundreds of first-responders were invited to the event Thursday night at the Relief's In at 1 Market St. 

At a meeting Sept. 4, Lawrence firefighters in the Local 146 fire union voted to picket and boycott the dinner as they go into their second year without a contract with the city. 

Fire Capt. Eric Zahn, union president, said the union is also being prevented from holding a promotion exam. 

There are roughly 140 union members, Zahn said. 

"If you appreciate public safety, you'd be treating us with some manner of respect," Zahn said of Rivera in an interview with The Eagle-Tribune on Monday morning. 

Zahn said other fire departments who responded to Lawrence during the disaster last year were notified and in support of the union's plans along with the leadership of the state's fire union, the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts. 

Rivera said he supports the Lawrence Fire Department and has provided firefighters with new fire trucks, better working conditions and enhanced safety measures. 

Gov. Charlie Baker was expected to attend the appreciation dinner which was going to be paid for using funds from Columbia Gas, he said. 

Rivera said he's not willing to battle or criticize the union in the press. However, he did suggest the firefighters' union needs a change in leadership. 

"I am doubling down on efforts to fix the communication here," Rivera said. 

The mayor said he is willing to directly negotiate with the union one-on-one and without each side's attorneys present. 

This is a developing story. Check back to eagletribune.com for updates. A full report will appear in online and print editions of The Eagle-Tribune. 

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill. 

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