rules against Kokomo fire union, denies request for arbitration
says Frazier, union prez, did not provide evidence backing claims
George Myers In a blow to
the Kokomo firefighters’ union, a Howard County judge late last week
denied a sweeping request that was at the center of a recent complaint
filed against city officials.
decision, denying the union's request for arbitration and injunctive
relief, is the latest development in what has become a publicly
contentious clash over the two sides’ collective bargaining efforts
toward a new contract - a process that began in June and has included
at least eight private meetings.
December, the Professional Firefighters of Kokomo Local 396 filed a
civil suit in Howard Superior Court 4, requesting Judge George Hopkins
prohibit the city from terminating the existing fire contract at the
end of the year and "until such time that the matter can be arbitrated."
between city and union officials first became public on Nov. 1, when
the firefighters’ union filed a grievance against the city of Kokomo
relating specifically to the city’s denial of a request for arbitration.
grievance, first disclosed by Local 396 President Chris Frazier,
stated, “the city has failed and refused to engage in collective
bargaining in good faith.”
grievance also claimed the city “has refused the Union’s submission to
arbitration of items at impasse despite past precedent requiring such
grievance was denied by the Kokomo Board of Public Works on Nov. 27.
ordinance lays out a 45-day negotiating window during which arbitration
can be requested. The two sides began contract negotiations on June 7,
according to Frazier, and the union submitted a written intent to bring
the matter to arbitration on Oct. 6.
396 President Chris Frazier believes a previous ruling, made in 2005 in
Howard Superior Court I, set a precedent that if both sides agree to
further negotiations, the period to enter into arbitration extends past
was first informed in an email Oct. 25 by attorney David Swider,
serving as outside counsel representing the city, that it would not
agree to arbitration.
documents filed in Hopkins’ court by the union stated that members
“would be irreparably harmed if the terms of the current contract are
allowed to lapse by the expiration of the contract on Dec. 31, 2017.”
also expressed, in court documents, concerns about the possibility of
existing health insurance benefits being denied if the existing
contract was allowed to expire on its scheduled end date.
officials also requested that the court mandate city officials to
comply with what Local 396 members believe is “mandatory binding
again citing health insurance concerns, also maintains that the city
has attempted “to pressure Local 296 into signing an agreement that is
preferential to the City and not the firefighters.”
sides then met in Superior Court 4 on Dec. 11 regarding the union’s
filing of a complaint for “injunctive relief, mandate and arbitration
argued their positions during the court hearing, with Frazier and
Kokomo corporation counsel Beth Copeland taking the stand as witnesses.
As cited in
Hopkins’ ruling, the union's representatives asserted “that its members
would be irreparably harmed if the terms of the contract lapse upon the
contact’s expiration. The plaintiff claims the members would not have
health insurance benefits upon the expiration of the contract.”
later cites Frazier as saying that upon the contract lapsing “he and
his family would not receive benefits from the defendant (city of
Kokomo) including health care.”
ruling continues, Kokomo firefighters, who are also city employees, can
receive health benefits available to all municipal employes.
Effectively, a firefighter must choose to be insured under the city's
enrollment period for city health insurance for 2018 began on Nov. 13
and ended Dec. 1, according to court documents.
documents also state that Frazier enrolled himself and his family in
the city’s health care plan for 2018 on Nov. 17.
not return a request for comment for this story. City officials
declined to provide comment.
did not receive any evidence to prove that the expiration of the
contract would have any negative impact on the plaintiff’s members like
Mr. Frazier who chose the [city's] health care plan for 2018,” notes
plaintiff (fire union) did not introduce any other evidence of possible
irreparable harm” upon the contract expiring, it continues.
the ruling cites Copeland’s assertion that firefighter wages will not
be reduced with the contract’s expiration, as they are controlled by a
salary ordinance already approved by the Kokomo Common Council.
By law, the
city is also prohibited from “imposing a layoff of firefighters except
for dire economic conditions,” according to court documents.
And in a
previous statement to the Tribune, Copeland noted: “Regardless of how
these legal proceedings unfold, local residents can be assured they
will not see any difference in fire protection in 2018."
Hopkins ruled that neither party requested arbitration within the
45-day window following the first meeting, and never had any formal
discussions about extending or waiving deadlines.
states that Local 396 “did not request arbitration in either a timely
manner or in compliance with the ordinance. …The plaintiff failed to
show any irreparable harm that would result if the contract expires
after December 31, 2017. A court cannot base a decision on speculation
or the possibility of further remote injury.”
stated that granting the union’s request would invade “the sanctity of
contracts and [contradict] Indiana law.”
denial, Hopkins stated that the two sides “are expected and strongly
encouraged to continue the collective bargaining process in good
Myers can be reached at 765-454-8585, by email at
email@example.com or on Twitter @gpmyerskt.