An arbitrator’s ruling would level the pay between the city’s two types of part-time firefighters. In January 2006, the city established a new program in which city employees from other departments would serve as part-time firefighters. Those employees, all of them managers and therefore not already in other city bargaining groups, were paid 13.65 percent of their current salary up to a maximum of $6,000. All of them except one, who was in the program for only part of last year, made the $6,000 maximum last year.
The city has long had a volunteer firefighter program. Those volunteers received no pay for their first two years then earn $1,000 the next year and an additional $150 for each year they serve after that.
The firefighters union worked out the hourly wage for the part-time reserves and determined those employees were making more than $30 per hour, while the volunteers were making $3.47 per hour.
At arbitration, the firefighters union argued both types of part-time firefighters should be lumped together and all should be paid $7.97 per hour.
The firefighters’ union said the ruling will save taxpayers more than $20,000.
The issue has been the source of a slew of legal actions, and several more are pending.
If appeals are denied, this would be the first year that the part-time firefighters would be part of the bargaining group.
After the new reserve firefighter program was started last year, the career firefighters petitioned the Iowa Public Employment Relations Board to have them included in their union for bargaining. In February, PERB issued a decision that the cross-trained city employees and the volunteer firefighters should all be considered city employees and therefore should be included in the bargaining group.
“Our contention was that as employees, they should be part of the bargaining group,” said Cedar Falls Firefighters Local 1366 President Scott Dix.
The city appealed and asked for a stay of the decision. On March 29, just four days before the union contract was to go for an arbitration hearing, PERB ruled against the stay.
At that time, the final offers from the city and the firefighters’ union were already due to the arbitrator.
The arbitrator returned a decision last month that granted the union’s requests.
Seven of the eight city employees who serve as part-time firefighters have filed prohibited practice complaints with PERB. They contend they were not asked to be in the union and did not ask to be in the union. They also stated that the union acted to have the part-timers included in bargaining without informing them, and that they weren’t even told they had become part of the union after the PERB ruling was issued.
Their complaints say that the union failed to represent them fairly and negotiated in bad faith when they asked for the 74.5 percent pay cut for the part-time firefighters.
Dix said the union was told by the city not to discuss collective bargaining with the part-time staff. Further, he said the union’s action would save the city about $23,000 this year.
The city has filed an appeal in district court over the PERB decision that the part-time employees should be considered city employees and therefore should be included in the collective bargaining process. The city also has requested a stay, which would keep the PERB decision, and therefore the arbitration regarding part-time employees, from going into effect until after a ruling is issued on the appeal.
The city had started the cross-trained city employee program in an effort to provide better fire staffing without the expense of hiring more full-time firefighters. The cross-trained firefighters must work 16 hours per month at the fire station outside of their regular city work hours. They also are expected to be on call and staff the station during the work day.
The bargaining agreement listed only four of the other type of part-time firefighters. Those volunteers are expected to work 24 hours per month. They are not required to be on call at other times.
The arbitrator’s ruling also covered the contract for full-time career firefighters. The contract calls for a 3.5 percent wage increase that was spread among firefighters of various experience levels according to the union’s wishes.
The most experienced firefighters will receive a 4.95 percent pay increase. All other steps in the pay scale will receive a 1 percent pay increase. The only lieutenant in the department will get a 3 percent pay increase.