membership among those at rally in favor of Kokomo firefighters' union
fire union prez, focuses on health care benefits at Common Council
A 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, assembling in support of the Professional
Firefighters of Kokomo Local 396, held signs either criticizing Kokomo
Mayor Greg Goodnight - “Goodnight Is A Liar!” read one sign – or
displaying the encouragement of United Auto Workers locals prior to
Monday night’s Common Council meeting.
The city and Local 396, negotiating a new contract since June 7, have
yet to reach an agreement, meaning Kokomo firefighters are operating
without a contract for the first time.
And that doesn’t sit well with many who attended Monday night’s rally.
“Whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican, sometimes you’ve just got to
be union first,” said UAW 685 President Rick Ward, explaining that
Local 369 President Chris Frazier contacted him and asked for support,
which was followed by text messages to UAW members.
“It’s a show of support. We didn’t come up here to disrupt anything,
but we want these firefighters to know that we support them. … I don’t
understand all the details of their negotiations, but I do know we’re
here for them.”
Adding to that mentality was UAW Local 1166 member Barent Wells, an
employee at the Kokomo Casting Plant, and rally attendee Pat Gammans,
who held the “Liar” sign.
“Very honestly, it just seems like they’re not getting a good shake or
a good deal from this mayor,” said Gammans. “This track record of this
mayor goes back 10 years … so this is a long string of things the
entire population of Howard County has kind of watched.”
“You absolutely want to support your fellow union members,” added
Wells, who also criticized the city’s handling of KFD retirees’ health
The rally, planned last week, came after the union on Sunday afternoon
rejected a contract offer from city officials. The offer, according to
a document left on the chairs of City Hall Council Chambers prior to
the council meeting, included a 6 percent raise over three years and a
$300 increase in longevity pay.
Also included were a “no layoff” guarantee and an increase in retiree
health care benefits from a $550 per month stipend to a reimbursement
of up to $900 per month for health insurance.
printed with a city of Kokomo seal and directing people to a website
showing the full proposal,
stated that Sunday was the first time Frazier allowed 396 members to
vote – a claim Frazier called “a lie” – though the city first presented
an offer on Oct. 11.
City officials also said Monday firefighters have received a 9.5
percent raise under Goodnight’s administration, more than other city
employees during the same time – a flyer
distributed by 396 members disputed that number – and compared local
firefighters’ wages and benefits favorably to area cities.
Union officials, though, said the Kokomo Fire Department has since 2009
lost 32 firefighters and annexed 27 percent more area into city limits.
But Local 396 President Chris Frazier and others in attendance say the
issue isn’t about raises – Frazier says his union would accept a
zero-zero-zero raise structure over the next three years – but is
instead about health insurance benefits.
Right now, fire union officials are “asking for parity with the police
department on retirees’ health insurance and active health insurance,”
said Frazier. He said increased premiums have eaten up any raises given
to local firefighters, especially those who live outside of Kokomo.
“If I have a firefighter who doesn’t live in the city, he’s paying
$2,600 more than I am because I live in the city,” he told the council.
“He’s paying $2,000 more than a retired police officer. We don’t feel
that that’s fair.”
Additionally, Frazier said retired firefighters on the Affordable Care
Act are given stipends that are not enough to pay for insurance
premiums, because “the ACA is just climbing, climbing, climbing.”
“It makes no sense to put our retirees on that system and have them get
into a position where they may in 10 months be in a situation where
their insurance isn’t even available to them,” he said. “Plus, we feel
these are people who sacrificed their health for 20, 30 years of their
life to serve this city.
“Whether that was going into smoke-filled houses or being around toxic
chemicals or just the abuse and wear-and-tear that firefighting has on
their bodies, all of those things add up.”
Frazier said he has presented to city officials an idea that, by
putting retirees back on the city plan, would pay for itself within two
One person, however, to confront union members Monday was Common
Council President Bob Hayes, who opened Monday’s meeting by saying
contract negotiations are not the responsibility of the council, which
only votes on an annual salary ordinance.
“I don’t appreciate the attempt to use this body and forum for
grandstanding. And this is not bargaining in good faith, which should
be the foundation of any proper negotiation,” he said, later laying out
in detail the terms of the offer most recently denied by union members.
Also discussed amongst those crowded at City Hall was how the KFD will
operate without a contract.
While more details are expected to emerge at Wednesday’s Board of
Public Works and Safety meeting, Kokomo Corporation Counsel Beth
Copeland gave a couple examples Monday of how things could change for
local firefighters until a new contract is established.
Copeland told RTV6 last week firefighters “just aren’t entitled to
certain things they once were.”
She said Monday that includes a shift in sick leave policy.
Firefighters previously had up to 180 days off at 100 percent pay for a
non-work-related injury. Now, under the City HR 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
She also said firefighters, without a contract, are not entitled to
Firefighters have had their salaries approved for 2018 at the 2017
totals of $51,244 for firefighters; $52,782 for chauffeurs; and $56,881
Issues between city and union officials first became public on Nov. 1,
when the firefighters’ union filed a grievance against the city of
Kokomo relating specifically to the city’s denial of a request for
The grievance, first disclosed by Frazier, stated, “the city has failed
and refused to engage in collective bargaining in good faith.” The
grievance, which was denied by the Board of Public Works and Safety,
also denounced the city’s denial to go to arbitration.
Then, in early December, Local 396 filed a civil suit in Howard
Superior Court IV, requesting Judge George Hopkins prohibit the city
from terminating the existing fire contract at the end of the year and
"until such time that the matter can be arbitrated."
Later that 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.
City 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.
Ultimately, 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.
The ruling states Local 396 “did not request arbitration in either a
timely manner or in compliance with the ordinance. … The plaintiff
failed to show any irreparable harm that would result if the contract
expires after December 31, 2017. A court cannot base a decision on
speculation or the possibility of further remote injury.”
Also generating conversation Monday was the resignation of former
Kokomo Fire Chief Pat O’Neill from the Kokomo Board of Public Works and
O’Neill, who could not be reached for comment, will remain employed as
the city’s director of airport and aviation.
can be reached at 765-454-8585, by email at
email@example.com or on Twitter @gmyerskt.