Firefighters union says staffing reductions put community at risk

iafflogo-smIn response to Wednesday’s news that Snohomish County Fire District 1 filed an unfair labor practice complaint against it, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1828 said Thursday it is concerned about proposed staffing reductions that put the community at risk.

Local firefighters “have and will continue to negotiate with Fire District 1 in good faith,” IAFF Local 1828 President Thad Hovis said in a statement.

The fire district provides fire and emergency medical services to 200,000 residents in Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace, Brier and unincorporated South Snohomish County.

Fire District 1 alleges that the union has violated its statutory bargaining obligations by refusing to execute the written agreement developed by the union’s chief negotiators and the fire district, and approved by Fire District 1 Commissioners. That agreement would yield a new labor contract for 2015-17, the fire district said in its announcement.

At the root of the disagreement, Hovis said, is properly staffing fire stations 24 hours a day. “We believe that is the most effective way to safely protect the community. A reduction in staffing at any hour of the day puts lives at risk.”

According to the union, Fire District continues to “brownout” — or shut down — two busy emergency medical services transport units from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. each day. “We believe there is no operational benefit or financial necessity to reduce staffing at night as Fire District 1 continues to do,” Hovis said. “There are no comparable agencies operating in the manner that Fire District 1 is proposing to continue indefinitely.”

In a survey of IAFF Local 1828’s membership, 92 percent of firefighters identified nighttime staffing reductions as the reason why they voted to reject the contract offer in January, the union statement said.

“Throughout this bargaining process our professional Union Firefighters of IAFF Local 1828 will continue to provide the highest level of service possible to the people we so proudly serve,” Hovis said.

Fire District 1 said its complaint filed with the state Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) asks for a two-part remedy. “First, the union would be ordered to cease violating its bargaining obligations. Second, the union would be ordered to execute the agreement reached by the chief negotiators.”

Bargaining for a new contract was a 19-month process that started in May 2014 and continued for 19 months. It included 23 bargaining sessions, including 18 mediations sessions under the auspices of PER, the fire district said. In January 2016, Fire Fighters Local 1828 members voted down a total contract settlement. After that, representatives of the two sides in early February created the agreement that is the subject of the complaint.

“Fire District 1 Commissioners are disappointed and believe that the public interest is best served by pursuing the complaint,” said Fire District 1 spokeswoman Leslie Hynes. “At the core of the dispute is the availability and quality of emergency services to our community in the form of extra coverage during times of higher emergency calls.”

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