Special master to mediate firefighters, Sebring dispute
Gary Pinnell | Highlands TodaySEBRING The Sebring Professional Firefighter Union and the city are taking their disputes to a special master, but neither sounds hopeful for a resolution.
Published: November 30, 2012
Published: November 30, 2012
"We have been negotiating with the firefighters since October 2011," Assistant City Manager Bob Hoffman said. He hoped the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission would assign a special master within the next week.
The City of Sebring declared an impasse and notified the Public Employees Relations Commission and IFFA Local 3210 President Ross Edmonds Oct. 9 by email and letter.
"About this time last year, they proposed a new contract, and they wanted to change every single thing," Edmonds said.
The city and the union reached tentative agreements on many issues, but important ones remain, including pension, discipline, wages, promotions, health insurance and standard operating guidelines, Sebring's labor attorney Brian Koji said in October.
"On the average, it was costing city taxpayers $37,000 per firefighter just for the pension contribution," Hoffman said, but the police officers' union accepted the same contribution plan.
"They took arbitration out of our contract," Edmonds said. "They don't like an outside person telling them they can't fire a firefighter."
"Frankly, we don't think that's a good position for the city to be in," Hoffman confirmed. Now, he said, a firefighter can be fired by Chief Brad Batz, and that decision can be overridden only by City Manager Scott Noethlich.
The firefighters didn't ask for a raise, Edmonds said. However, he said, the city has not replaced six or seven firefighters who have quit or retired, and the remaining staff has been required to work so much mandatory overtime, they are dangerously tired.
Sometimes, firefighters have to work three 24-hour shifts in a row, Edmonds said. "That's the only reason why they're not hiring new people. They are pressuring our guys."
"They haven't given us anything in return," Edmonds said. "They have a duty to negotiate with us in good faith. They can't give us a progressively worse option. But in fact, they keep giving progressively worse."
If the firefighters accept progressively worse contracts, Edmonds said, the least qualified firefighters will be hired in Sebring instead of other departments. "We're going to be the bottom of the barrel."
Like a mediator, a special master's recommendations do not bind either party.
The special magistrate will schedule a public hearing in which either side can present evidence or arguments on the issues that remain at impasse, Koji said. Then the special magistrate will issue a recommended order on each of the issues and how to resolve them. If either side objects, those items go to the city council.
"The city council holds public meetings that again allow both sides to present their view of any of the remaining impasse items, then the city council makes its decisions as to the impasse items," Koji said.
"The city council is the judge and jury as to what will happen," Hoffman said.
"I don't think we're going to be the winners in this situation," Edmonds predicted.
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