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Source: Kokomo Tribune

City, firefighters union likely headed into court battle following grievance denial

Two sides continue to spar during contract negotiations

By George Myers
KOKOMO – Professional Firefighters of Kokomo Local 396 and the city of Kokomo likely are moving headlong into a court saga, after city officials denied a grievance filed by the union relating to collective bargaining efforts.

The Kokomo Board of Public Works last week denied the union’s grievance, saying in a findings-of-fact document no articles or sections in the previous agreement between the two sides were violated.

On Nov. 1, the firefighters’ union filed a grievance against the city of Kokomo relating specifically to the city’s denial of a request for arbitration.

The grievance, first disclosed by Local 396 President Chris Frazier, stated, “the city has failed and refused to engage in collective bargaining in good faith.”

Notably, the grievance also claimed the city “has refused the Union’s submission to arbitration of items at impasse despite past precedent requiring such submission.”

“We’ll probably end up filing for a hearing with the Board of Works,” said Frazier, in response to the most recent decision. “We’ll have to go and sit down and present evidence and do that kind of thing.”

“It’s going to have to go through a big court battle,” he added later.

City 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.

But 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 45 days.

“We’ve already been through this before, and it cost the city a lot of money. It cost our union a lot of money,” he said.

The union 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.

“We continued negotiating mutually past the 45 days to try to reach an agreement,” said Frazier in an email. “We asked for arbitration as soon as we reached an impasse in negotiations.”

Effectively, the union asked, in the grievance report, the city be required to enter into arbitration.

“The city must be ordered to bargain in good faith. The city must be ordered to allow the arbitration of the items at impasse and all other proper relief,” stated the grievance’s requested settlement.

Kokomo Board of Public Works President Randy McKay said in a text message Friday he could not comment on the case while it is active.

The most recent grievance to gain public attention was in late 2016 when the Board of Public Works denied a grievance filed in November by the firefighters union that alleged the city violated a contractual agreement.

The case is currently with an arbitrator and a ruling is expected soon, according to Frazier.

Effectively, the board denied the grievance on the grounds the Kokomo Fire Department had acted within the contract’s parameters when calling for assistance from volunteer fire departments. 

The union’s grievance was filed on Nov. 14, 2016, following a house fire less than a month earlier that required Kokomo firefighters to call for Harrison and Russiaville volunteer fire departments for water supply.

The union filed a grievance, alleging that, “Calling for outside assistance from Harrison Township F.D. violates … our contractual agreement. Tanker 1 was taken out of service on this day to not pay overtime.

“This is common practice of the KFD administration to take Tanker 1 out of service to avoid overtime costs.”

Local 396’s settlement request was “mandatory staffing of Tanker 1 at all times.”

Notably, though, it was determined the house fire on Oct. 19 was an “emergency situation.”

Because the section of the contract highlighted in the dispute begins with the wording “Except in an emergency situation …,” the Board of Public Works ruled KFD did not violate its contract.

George Myers can be reached at 765-454-8585, by email at george.myers@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @gpmyerskt.

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