in tax dollars went to fire union negotiations
note: This column appeared as the editorial in the Jan. 24 edition of
the Kokomo Perspective.)
Legal representation, as it turns out, isn’t cheap.
In recent months, the negotiations between the city of Kokomo and
Professional Firefighters of Kokomo Local 396 dominated headlines.
Those negotiations, which began last June and lasted for five months,
bore no fruit, and now the firefighters of Kokomo Fire Department are
working without a contract with the city for the first time in history.
Those fruitless talks extended all the way to the local court system as
the union battled for arbitration with the city, and they came at a
high price to taxpayers.
The largest taxpayer-associated costs came by way of legal
representation for the city of Kokomo. The city contracted with
Indianapolis attorney David Swider for the collective bargaining and
eventual court proceedings, which came after the union filed its civil
suit against Kokomo.
Those services to date, according to the city, came with a price tag of
According to court records, both parties negotiated for a five-month
period, meeting eight separate times and expending more than 40 hours
of bargaining and caucuses. The cost also is associated with the legal
battled launched after both parties reached an impasse, wherein on Dec.
6 the local firefighter union filed a civil suit seeking to have the
city compelled into participating in binding arbitration and to have
the firefighters’ previous three-year contract extended past its
Eventually, Superior Court IV Judge George Hopkins sided with the city
of Kokomo, ruling that the city couldn’t be forced to arbitrate because
the deadline for requesting arbitration, a 45-day window, was laid out
clearly in local ordinances and had been passed.
In their filings, Local 396 also claimed that allowing their contract
to lapse would endanger the firefighters’ health insurance. However, no
evidence was provided to support that claim, according to Hopkins’
ruling. As such, the union’s contract expired at the beginning of the
year. In effect, this shifted the firefighters from acting as
contractual employees to non-contractual, making them subject to the
city’s policies instead of mutually-negotiated terms.
Since his ruling, a joint request for clarification was made by both
parties in the suit on Jan. 4. Hopkins affirmed his previous ruling on
Jan. 12, with court records indicating the ruling “was intended to deny
the request for an emergency preliminary injunction and/or temporary
restraining order. (The) court also believes the issue of mandate and
arbitration order are moot.”
Throughout it all, other costs also may be associated with the
unsuccessful collective bargaining efforts and court proceedings.
Those costs, consisting of taxpayer-funded salaries of those involved
in the more than 40 hours of bargaining and caucuses, however, are
harder to determine.
According to city attorney Beth Copeland, those include both the
salaries of the firefighters who sat in on the efforts, other Kokomo
employees, and her own.
“In addition to known costs spent negotiating and defending the lawsuit
filed by the fire union, the City has also incurred substantial costs
from the hours of work spent by City of Kokomo employees in the
Controller’s Office, Human Resources Department, Corporation Counsel’s
Office, and the dollars spent paying representatives of the fire union
to attend meetings,” said Copeland.