into a dispute between the local firefighter union and the city,
tensions reached a climax during last week’s Kokomo Common Council
red to show support for the Professional Firefighters of Kokomo Local
396, hundreds bearing signs decrying the city and Mayor Greg Goodnight
flocked to City Hall. The crowd gathered to hear Local 396 President
Chris Frazier speak both outside City Hall and in an address to the
week represented a climax to the contract showdown between the city and
firefighters, tensions haven’t eased. The fight between the
firefighters, who are working without a contract, and the city
continues with both sides pointing fingers.
address to the council, Frazier appealed to the union’s membership,
claiming the council only had been privy to half of the story
day, the firefighters and city had convened to discuss another contract
proposal offered by the city. According to the city, that proposal
included two-percent raises in each year of the three-year contract, a
$300 increase in longevity pay, group health insurance for actives
would remain unchanged, and retirees’ monthly stipend for health
insurance through the Affordable Care Act would be bumped from $550 to
$900. The union voted down the proposal.
firefighters’ primary goal, said Frazier, was to improve their
insurance options with the city, and he detailed a counter offer he
said the union made.
proposal to the city was this; we would take no raise for three years,
zero. This is not about the raise. All we were asking for in our
contract was that we have parity with the police department with active
and retirees insurance. Those are the two things we want. That is the
most important thing that our body wants … We made that clear during
negotiations that that is the most important thing, health insurance.
“We got to a
point where we thought we had maybe worked out something because we
presented a deal to the city that shows how, by putting our retirees
back on the city’s plan, it will pay for itself within the next two
years. The negotiation team with the city agreed with us that, ‘Yes,
your numbers are correct.’ We will be able to absorb this cost within
two years based on retirees leaving, and the city is not looking to
hire any new firefighters, per our conversations in negotiation. The
retirees’ health insurance, we presented a plan that shows it will pay
later disagreed with Frazier’s description of negotiations, in which
the union president said retiree health insurance was a primary focus.
different than what they’ve said all through negotiations … They came
to the bargaining table with 88 proposals,” said Goodnight. “So that’s
not true that it’s just about parity with the police concerning retiree
healthcare. That’s not true because he came to the table with not one
important issue but with 88 important issues. So that’s not true. He’s
changing his story on that.”
prior reporting, in 2014 the city shifted to offering Local 396
retirees a stipend, at the time fearing extra incurred debt would
affect the city’s ability to bond and obtain a good interest rate. At
the time, it was reported the city also intended to approach AFSCME
Local 2185 and the Fraternal Order of Police with proposals to make a
similar shift for their retirees. Those changes never occurred with the
other unions, but Goodnight said that’s because those unions
prioritized retiree health insurance in subsequent negotiations.
difference. Four years ago Chris Frazier was part of the bargaining
committee, and he accepted a proposal. The union voted overwhelmingly
to get away from the city’s healthcare plan and buy on the private
market,” said Goodnight. “In exchange for that they took 6.5-percent
raises over a three-year period and accepted a $550 per month stipend
for all retired firefighters. He’s the one that gave this up. He took
the 6.5-percent raise to get 6.5-percent raises for himself and others.
I didn’t unilaterally impose this.”
presentation to the council, Frazier also took issue with the fact that
the insurance deductible for firefighters varies depending upon if a
firefighter lives within city limits. Those living outside the limits
pay a higher deductible, 18 percent versus 10 percent.
“I feel like
you guys have the ability to make this happen,” said Frazier to the
council. “In 2005 we went through this same situation, and the council
was able to approve the money and say, ‘Yes, we do have the money. Mr.
Mayor we can make this happen. The money is there. There’s no reason we
can’t make this happen.’”
did not directly respond to Frazier after he spoke, but prior to that
President Bob Hayes said he didn’t appreciate the “the attempt to use
this body and forum for grandstanding.”
attendance during the rally at city hall were members of UAW 1166 and
President Rick Ward said the area’s largest union stood in solidarity
with the firefighters.
members whose family members are firefighters and policemen,” said
Ward. “Nothing has changed since 9/11. They’re all heroes, and we
support them. We didn’t come down here to disrupt anything, but it’s a
message that this community supports our firefighters.”
between the union and city administration again elevated during a Board
of Public Works meeting the next Wednesday, where the board approved
the city’s HR Policy Manual for all non-contractual employees, which
includes the firefighters union since their contract expired at the
beginning of the year.
called certain changes that followed the implementation of the HR
Policy Manual union busting.
president said the policies dictating sick and vacation days had
changed for the worse. He also noted that the new policies gave the axe
to personal time and the ability to trade shifts with other
firefighters, making the department’s 24-hour shifts much harder to
manage in the case of a personal emergency.
busting,” said Frazier. “It is 100 percent union busting. They are
trying to pressure us into accepting the terms of the deal they offered
instead of going through the process of negotiating, arbitration.”
pointed the finger at Goodnight, claiming the mayor had done an
about-face on the pro-union ideals he espoused when he first was
elected mayor. Frazier even displayed former campaign materials
dispersed by Goodnight in 2007 wherein he appealed to the department.
exactly the same thing that happened in 2005 when [Goodnight] fought
for us. He fought against Mayor (Matt) McKillip, and he used that as a
platform to get Mayor McKillip beat in that election. That’s how
[Goodnight] was able to become the mayor of Kokomo. He used those
situations to get McKillip beat, about how he was a union-busting guy.
He did not honor the process of arbitration. He did not treat us fairly
during negotiation. All of these things he used to get into that job,
he has turned around and used on us 10-times fold. McKillip never did
anything like [Goodnight] does to us.”
about the claims of union busting, Goodnight pointed to Frazier. He
claimed Frazier was to blame for the union’s predicament. He pointed to
both Judge George Hopkin’s ruling against the union’s civil suit, which
the firefighters launched, as evidence of that.
that has done the most to bust the firefighter union is Chris Frazier,”
said Goodnight. “He has done more than I could ever do. First of all,
either he didn’t read or he didn’t understand the city ordinance from
1975. Therefore, he allowed the contract to expire. He allowed it to
expire. I didn’t. He did. As a former union president, if the contract
expires you better have a plan. Whether to go out on strike, whether to
continue to negotiate without a contract, or your other plan is to
possibly be locked out in the private sector. He has done more to bust
that union than I could ever do or the city council could ever do.”
said the path forward is to admit mistakes have been made.
needs to happen. Chris Frazier needs to man up and admit he’s made
multiple mistakes in this process,” said Goodnight. “As a former union
president I can point some of them out. He never took the time to
understand the legal aspects of the ordinance. He allowed his contract
to expire. Up until just the other day, he never allowed his membership
to vote on any of the proposals. And he took a bad case to court and
put all his eggs on the court system when he had a bad argument to
begin with. He has made mistake after mistake after mistake, and he
needs to take responsibility and own up to it.”