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Source: Kokomo Perspective

Legal battle between firefighters, city resurfaces

Devin Zimmerman

The winding legal battle between the city of Kokomo and Professional Firefighters of Kokomo Local 396 took yet another turn last week and may be headed to another courtroom.

Local 396 filed for a change of judge, moving to take their civil case against Kokomo out of Howard Superior Court IV, where Judge George Hopkins previously ruled against the union’s requests for emergency injunction, arbitration, and a contract extension.

The union argues the issues they’ve previously requested be addressed in Superior IV “are not closed on the merits.” As such, on Jan. 29 both a motion for a change of judge and renewed motion for emergency preliminary injunction were filed by Local 396.

In their, the union argues certain stipulations detailed by the city’s attorney, Beth Copeland, in a hearing held in December have been violated.

“Despite the ruling of the court and the assurances of Ms. Copland that the court’s ruling was presumably based upon, the city of Kokomo since that date has taken significant steps to negatively impact the insurance and compensation of the firefighters,” read the filing.

The firefighters claim the city has activated and/or announced their intention to eliminate the health insurance benefit stipend received by firefighter retirees. The filing stated that “this action could cause firefighter retirees to be unable to pay premiums, thereby causing coverage to lapse.”

Furthermore, the firefighters claim the city activated and/or announced a change in the sick leave policy, “causing firefighters to lose vacation or wages in certain situations that they are sick. Not only is this a violation of the city’s commitment to not negatively alter the firefighters’ benefits, but it creates unsafe working conditions for the firefighters and puts the community at risk.”

Within the filing, Local 396 also claims the city eliminated personal time and the ability for firefighters to trade time with each other.

“Each of these actions by the city constitutes not only actions that are directly contrary to the assertions and representations made by Ms. Copeland to this court, but also constitute irreparable harm to the firefighters,” read the renewed motion for emergency preliminary injunction.

The union’s filing also claims the city is refusing to acknowledge the actions of Local 396’s leadership, violating city ordinances recognizing the firefighters’ right to be represented by the union, and that the city ceased payroll deduction for union dues and/or hardship disability payments “all once again in contravention of Kokomo city ordinance.”

Because of these actions, the firefighters are seeking a preliminary injunction “reinstating said benefits and all other just and proper relief.”

On Jan. 29 both parties were given seven days to agree on a special judge.

However, on Feb. 1 the city filed a motion to strike against the firefighters’ motion, arguing that the request fell outside of the 10-day timespan allowed after issues are closed. Hopkins issued an order denying the union’s previous civil filings on Dec. 29, and on Jan. 12 a joint request for clarification reaffirmed the ruling in favor of the city.

“[Professional Firefighters of Kokomo Local 396’s] efforts to get a second bite of the apple in front of a different judge are improper and inappropriate,” read the city’s motion.

Hopkins did not act upon the city’s motion to strike. Additionally, the union filed with an appeals court to have Hopkins’ ruling considered.

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