fire union saga adds another chapter at Kokomo BOW meeting
sides continue jabs as firefighters operate without contract
George Myers City
officials and Kokomo firefighters added another chapter to their
ongoing contract dispute saga Wednesday with a heated exchange between
a board president and a retired firefighter.
followed the Kokomo Board of Public Works and Safety’s passing of a
measure that approved the city’s HR Policy Manual as the standard for
all non-contractual employees, including the fire department, which is
currently acting without a contract for the first time.
makes a variety of adjustments that will be in place until a new
contract is established, explained Kokomo Corporation Counsel Beth
Copeland in a previous interview.
told RTV6 last week firefighters “just aren’t entitled to certain
things they once were.”
Monday that includes a change in sick leave policy.
previously had up to 180 days off at 100 percent pay for a
non-work-related injury. Now, under the policy manual, firefighters
will be given the same benefits as other noncontractual employees: 85
percent of their pay for a time dependent on years of service.
said firefighters, without a contract, are not entitled to grievances.
Issues are expected to be addressed by the city’s human resources
attendance Wednesday, though, were around 15 members of the
Professional Firefighters of Kokomo Local 396, some of whom questioned
the board’s decision and why it was necessary.
situation quickly devolved into a fiery debate between Kokomo Board of
Public Works and Safety President Randy McKay and retired firefighter
and Local 396 member Chuck Sosbe, who expressed frustration to the
board about a perceived lack of dialogue.
“We go to a
city council meeting the other day, and the [Kokomo Common Council]
says we have no avenue to talk to them about our contract. We come here
today to talk to you about some items concerning our contract, and you
tell us we don’t have the ability to talk to you,” he said.
President Chris Frazier expressed similar concerns at a recent BOW
meeting; both men were directed to the city’s head of human resources.
“This is not
a place to debate. You’ve asked twice now…you’ve been directed. Take
that route. I’m going to end the discussion,” McKay told Sosbe
Wednesday, later explaining that the board has “to adopt policies to
regulate [the KFD] on how they operate (without a contract). That’s
what we did today.”
months-long dispute between city officials and the Kokomo firefighters’
union took its most contentious and public turn Monday night, when
about 200 people, most wearing red shirts meant to symbolize union
solidarity, gathered at City Hall to protest the city’s handling of
contract negotiations. Many in the crowd Monday represented local
United Auto Workers unions.
interview with Indiana Public Media Wednesday, Kokomo Mayor Greg
Goodnight responded to the rally, saying Local 396 was previously
adamant about receiving a 15 percent raise over three years.
statement is at odds with those made by union officials Monday night,
who said they are only looking for health insurance parity with the
Kokomo Police Department.
compare their wages and benefits package with the surrounding areas and
even other second-class cities, they’re usually in the top tier in all
aspects, whether it be vacation days, holidays, general pay and even
retiree benefits and health care,” said Goodnight, noting both sides
have expressed a willingness privately to continue negotiations.
without a contract, but it’s because of their own doing – their
inability to either read or comprehend the ordinance, which was written
in the 1970s.”
Also at the
center of Wednesday’s discussions at the Board of Works meeting was a
recent ruling by Howard County Judge George Hopkins in favor of the
city. The judge recently ruled against the union after it filed a
lawsuit against the city in Early December, asking the court to not
terminate the fire contract at the end of 2017.
was prompted by comments related to how often union and city officials
met before a legal deadline and what Sosbe said is the usual practice
of disregarding that deadline.
month, Hopkins denied the union’s sweeping request for preliminary
injunction; he later called the issue of an arbitration order “moot” in
a written clarification.
ordinance lays out a 45-day negotiating window during which arbitration
can be requested. The two sides began contract negotiations on June 7,
but the union did not submit a written intent to bring the matter to
arbitration until Oct. 6.
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.
At the June
7 meeting, the union presented the city with more than 80 proposals to
modify the contract, according to city records. Those records also show
that between June 7 and Oct. 11 the two sides met eight times for a
total of more than 40 hours.
better be ready to go to arbitration every time because you only met
with us two times before the 45-day period,” claimed Sosbe.
that threat,” responded McKay. “Every day that I’ve been here, we’ve
heard that threat.
the meeting, Frazier said the union will continue pursuing the court
case, claiming that Hopkins has not given “clear rulings.”
He also said
a firefighter’s promotion to a captain, approved by the Board of Public
Works and Safety Wednesday and recommended by Kokomo Fire Chief Nick
Glover, subverted the usual contract-based process.
said Frazier, “have gone in and just picked a person without offering
it to the other people. …We’re just seeing a systematic chipping away
of all the things that make us function.”
Myers can be reached at 765-454-8585, by email at
firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @gmyerskt.