City says labor ruling not the “real story”
EVERETT - Everett says the ruling that found the city violated labor laws when it cut firefighters’ overtime hours should be thrown out because it’s based on faulty facts.
The city filed its appeal Dec. 30. The Tribune reported the union’s side last week.
Commissioner Katrina Boedecker of the state Public Employment Relations Commission ruled the city violated labor laws in a Dec. 2 decision.
The city’s hired attorney Larry Hannah challenges six of the seven conclusions Boedecker made, arguing details were ignored and some facts were misinterpreted.
If Boedecker’s decision is upheld, Everett may need to compensate the firefighters’ union thousands of dollars in overtime back pay. The union and city would need to calculate the figure together.
“The decision could best be explained as somehow predetermined, leading to disregard of the law, the undisputed facts of record, and the parties’ post-hearing briefs,” Hannah wrote. “The decision does not rest at all on witness-credibility determinations. The facts appear solely in the hearing transcript and the exhibits.”
The city filed a 75-page post-hearing brief that Hannah says tells the “real story.”
The firefighters’ union filed a complaint against the city after the Everett Fire Department decided in 2010 to heavily restrict using overtime firefighters on certain rigs and cut back shift hours on two aid cars and one fire engine starting in 2010.
Hannah argues the city’s contract with the union lets it adjust staffing on rigs if staffing the rigs requires calling firefighters in on overtime hours.
The city has the right to take rigs out of service “if there is a shortfall of personnel pre-assigned to work the shift,” Hannah wrote, citing multiple similar cases where the Commission ruled in favor of the public employer.
An aid car stationed on 16th Street east of Broadway became a prime example in Boedecker’s ruling. That aid car was out of service for 72 shifts, but was staffed 63 percent of the time, Hannah wrote. (Boedecker ruled it was staffed 13 percent of the time, which Hannah disputes. Both use the same city figure.)
Before the cut, that aid car was mostly manned with firefighters working overtime hours.
The department depleted its overtime budget by August 2010 and requests to get additional money by Fire Chief Murray Gordon and union leaders were rebuked. All departments were told to live within their budgets. In conjunction with this, though, Fire Department administrators cut shift hours on certain rigs from 12 hours to eight hours. Hannah argues the union agreed with the Fire Department on the move.
When the rigs were in service they were fully manned with assigned employees. Because the union contract lets it avoid staffing rigs with overtime employees, the city never violated labor law, Hannah argues. Hannah wrote that Boedecker made a “profound” error in understanding this contract clause.
The city also challenges Boedecker’s assertion that changing its automated 911 dispatch map with SNOPAC meant more outside fire departments were doing Everett firefighters’ work.
SNOPAC asked the Fire Department to computerize its mutual aid system. While that led to a wider net of other available fire departments that could be activated to respond to incidents inside Everett limits, other fire departments were only called in after Everett ran out of rigs first, Hannah wrote. “This change did not cause a loss of bargaining unit work.”
Union witnesses at the hearing testified that the cutbacks to two aid cars and one fire engine created an increase in mutual aid. Boedecker decided that meant firefighters lost work to other fire departments, but Hannah argues that’s not the case.
“The change was simply to computerize which mutual aid unit would be dispatched when mutual aid is needed; there was no alteration of when a mutual aid unit is needed,” Hannah wrote.
Hannah argues Boedecker misread a growing trend line by comparing 2009 to 2011 call logs, a 19 percent increase, without considering 2010. There were 158 calls in 2009, 167 calls in 2010 and an estimated 191 calls for 2011.
Boedecker seized on the city’s estimated 19 percent increase in mutual aid from 2009 to 2011 to rule the city used mutual aid to cut back on overtime at firefighters’ expense.
“The difference of 33 dispatches between 191 and 158 means fewer than three additional calls per month; not even one a week,” which is minimal, Hannah wrote.
Also, the city is concerned the union may pocket the money without reimbursing firefighters. “A huge back pay kitty would be funded by the City and paid to the Union, to be spent however the Union might determine,” Hannah wrote.
International Association of Fire Fighters Local 46 president Paul Gagnon said previously the labor complaint is not about the money. “We’re asking them to staff the Fire Department adequately.”
Everett Fire traditionally runs understaffed, relying on overtime to man some rigs. During talks, union leaders asked the department to change its staffing model. The model is costlier to run, but avoids overtime staffing.
The city’s appeal will be handled by another commissioner, Commission records specialist David Gedrose wrote in an e-mail last week. It could take up to six months before a decision is reached.
By MICHAEL WHITNEY
Published Jan. 11, 2012