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Beach Fire officials/union remain at odds

July 25, 2012
By BOB PETCHER, , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

There is still unrest in the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District. Union and administration officials remain at odds about job descriptions, policies and promotions within the District workforce.

There appears to be fallout from the post-legislative hearing talks regarding administration's proposed hiring of nine new employees after drastic wage reductions and a newly installed pay matrix system's payback methodology affected current personnel.

Before setting the TRIM rate and tentative budget hearing for fiscal year 2012-13, the Beach Board of Fire Commissioners listened to Southwest Florida Professional Firefighters & Paramedics Local 1826 Union President Walt Stevens reference a letter by Acting Chief Darren White dated July 3, about an apparently declared impasse on job descriptions. The "impasse" was created after the District's continued endeavor to engage in impact bargaining with union officials before the implementation of new or updated job descriptions and related administrative policies on July 15.

"How are we at impasse when we had one meeting where we brought forward our concerns in writing? This makes no sense to me because it affects this department and these employees greatly," Stevens said at the District's monthly meeting Tuesday, July 17. "They already took up to 40 percent pay cuts, and now these job descriptions can have a great effect on them, and we shouldn't be concerned?"

Union officials would like to establish dates to negotiate the Collective Bargaining Agreement contract as a whole and not as separate articles.

"We are not trying to hold this up," said Stevens. "But, obviously, we are at impasse."

According to the acting chief, the letter states the union was given the option to declare other dates to continue bargaining.

"The action you took that day created an impasse," said White.

The letter states, "As a result of the Union's position, the District believes an impasse has been created, and will move forward with implementation on July 15, 2012. That being said, the District will continue to welcome any opportunity to impact bargain in good-faith over each of these items at any time, including after the implementation date in the event the Union changes its position and notifies me in writing."

Terms of job descriptions and requirements have been involved in talks with Union District 3 representative Troy Mesick, says White.

"What needs to be impact bargain are the requirements for that job. That is where the conflict comes in," said White. "The new job descriptions have new job requirements that we would like to impact bargain to come to a resolve on that. Just because someone doesn't meet the educational requirement of the job description that has been imposed doesn't mean they are going to be removed from that position."

At the Tuesday meeting, Stevens stated that 13 grievances would be filed by week's end and arbitration would follow. He claims administrative personnel did not know where former Chief Mike Becker received information on CBA articles.

"We'll go through the legal process from here," he said. "It makes no sense to me to cut these employees' pay and then hire nine new people. It's shameful."

District to look into SAFER grants

Stevens asked the fire commissioners to consider looking into the SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response) grants, a program "created to provide funding directly to fire departments and volunteer firefighter interest organizations in order to help them increase the number of trained, 'front line' firefighters available in their communities" and "to enhance the local fire departments' abilities to comply with staffing, response and operational standards."

In 2011, at least five Southwest Florida fire districts were awarded SAFER grants, including Lehigh Acres Fire Control and Rescue District ($6,716,874), East Naples Fire Control and Rescue District ($1,726,542), Golden Gate Fire Control and Rescue District ($1,417,135), Immokalee Fire Control District ($736,920) and Bayshore Fire/ Rescue ($378,066).

"The money is there. It covers the pay, the benefits and health care. It pays the whole package," said Stevens. "This district has never applied for it. There is over $700 million that's available."

Union officials offered to do all the legwork once the Beach commissioners look into the paperwork that will be provided.

"I am in favor of looking into the SAFER grant as well," Commissioner Ted Schindler said in echoing his fellow board members. "I do recall there being strings attached to it. That's what I would be concerned about."

Stevens said there are requirements involved with the governmental program, including restrictions to lay off firefighters hired with SAFER grant money.

Fire board sets TRIM rate

The Beach fire commissioners unanimously approved to set the TRIM rate for fiscal year 2012-13 at 2.6305 mills, 0.0645 mils lower than administration's proposed rate of 2.695 and equal to the rollback rate.

"Personally, I do not want to exceed the rollback rate. I think we have had far, far too many tax increases," said Commissioner David Brower before the rate was approved.

The current 2011-12 millage rate for Beach Fire is 2.5700 mills. The 2.6305 millage figure cannot be exceeded when the fire commissioners set the final millage rate before the Oct. 1 implementation date. They will discuss the possibility of lowering the TRIM rate at two workshops (Aug. 7, 10 a.m. and Aug. 21, 5 p.m.) before a tentative budget hearing on Sept. 6, at 5:05 p.m. The final budget hearing date will be established at that time.



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