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The History

 

Why did the full time FireFighters decide to become affiliated with the IAFF and the PFFI?

When Mike Elle became Chief, he made it clear to the full time firefighters that it would be a career ending decision to go around the chain of command and talk to the elected officials about job related issues. He conveyed that the previous Chief had a lot of problems with firefighters going to the City Council and the Mayor with issues that he felt should have been brought to him instead. This completely tied our hands when it came to anything involving decisions that could only be made by the City leaders.

                                                                                      

On multiple occasions we asked Chief Elle to request more money in his budget for things like replacing safety gear that was either worn out or had outlived its recommended life span. We asked for a $15 a month raise that had been promised to the Paramedics but was never delivered. We requested that the City continue to pay for time spent in training and classes, and to increase our training budget, both of which had recently been drastically cut. We requested these things not only for the nine full time firefighters but for the volunteers as well. Regardless of the request the answer that always came back was that the City could not afford it.

 

We started to feel like this was a canned answer, at the same time we watched the City spend thousands of dollars on projects that didn't seem appropriate for a City that was supposedly in financial trouble. We watched the City pay the new City Administrator's annual salary of close to $200,000 and sign contracts of employment with the City Administrator, the Fire Chief, and the Director of the Planning Department.

 

These issues were a major factor but they weren't the only driving force. We had a desire to become part of the brotherhood that is represented in the fire Union. Firefighters are keenly aware of the meaning of brotherhood and comradery and we wanted to be more a part of that. The IAFF also presents training opportunities that are not available to a small department in Idaho. They offer group rates on home-owners insurance and discounts on financial services. The International Association of FireFighters offers a multitude of other benefits to which we would not otherwise have had access.

 

What happened next?

We gave the Fire Chief one last opportunity. One of our Captains took him out to lunch and presented our issues one last time. He asked if the Chief was willing or capable of helping us with these issues. When he said that his hands were tied the Captain informed him that we were going to have a meeting with the Vice President of the IAFF to discuss and take a vote on becoming a Union. He asked for the Chief’s permission to hold the meeting at our main station - which was granted as long as we had the meeting after regular business hours.

 

Several days later on June 22, 2009 we made a business decision. The nine career firefighters organized with the IAFF and became the Ketchum FireFighters Local 4758 so that our principal officers could talk directly with the City leaders - to make our case that we felt had fallen on deaf ears or had simply not been presented in the first place.

 

The next day we informed the Mayor, City Administrator, and the Fire Chief of our decision and they recognized us as a Union.

 

What is the next step that the FireFighters took?

We were then assigned a representative from the IAFF to help us formulate a contract to propose to the City during negotiations. As a firefighters union, we are responsible for coming up with a contract proposal that best suits our unique fire department. We used other local’s contracts as templates and did our best to incorporate our “2005 Employee Handbook” into a contract proposal. Unlike other Unions, there is no pre-set contract or list of working conditions and terms of employment that we are obligated to use. The Articles that we set forth to negotiate with the City came from our existing handbook, the one we had been operating under since 2005. We never thought that our current working conditions and benefits were in danger; our goal was to take those pre-existing terms in the handbook & set them into contract form. Once we completed our first draft, we asked the City to sit down with us, which they agreed to do on September 9th, 2009.

 


Who negotiates for the FireFighters, the City?

The representative from the IAFF acted as our Chief negotiator for the first couple of contracts, they taught us how to negotiate openly and fairly. Our team consisted of our Principal Officers – President John Rathfon, Secretary/Treasurer Seth Martin, and Vice President Tom Ancona. The City chose to use their contracted attorney Stephanie Bonney, the City Administrator Gary Marks, and the Fire Chief Mike Elle.

 


What happened during negotiations?

We had a total of five sessions, most lasting less than five hours. During one of the first sessions, Mr. Marks told us that it was immoral for the firefighters to ask for a contract. In spite of that ominous sign, it seemed to us that the teams were making progress towards a final contract. By the end of the five sessions the firefighters had agreed to several cuts in benefits, however, knowing that first contracts are always difficult, we were more than happy to have signed off on 23 of our initial 32 articles. At the end of the fifth session, both sides had articles that they agreed they going to work on. The City told us that they needed guidance from the City Council on a couple of issues so that they could come back to the table with something that could eventually be signed off.

 


What is a Tentatively Agreed to Article?

Tentatively Agreed to Articles are ones that both parties have agreed to during negotiations. Both parties represent a governing body. In the case of the City’s negotiating team the governing body is the City Council and Mayor. In the case of the firefighters negotiating team it is the full time firefighters that constitute the local Union. It is expected that both teams will represent their governing bodies during negotiations. The goal is to bring back a Tentatively Agreed to Contract that the respective bodies can feel comfortable ratifying.

 

Did the City get back to you after the Council Meeting?

Not on their own accord, we had to send emails requesting more negotiation sessions. After a couple of attempts we were informed that the City felt they had fulfilled their statutory obligations and that any unresolved matters needed to be heard by a Fact Finding Commission.

 

This came as a complete shock to us. We felt that we had left the table temporarily, and that we had seen good movement on issues by both sides. Up until this point we felt confident that we would have a contract signed by the first of the year.

 

What is a Fact Finding Commission? 

A Fact Finding Commission is a panel of three people that is assembled to resolve issues that have caused some sort of stalemate. Each party chooses a representative to serve on the commission and those two representatives choose a neutral Chairperson. In this case we chose the President of the PFFI, Ron Davis, and the City chose Jake Peters. Jake and Ron got together and chose Ellie Gillbreath as the Chairperson. In Idaho the Fact Finding Commission’s recommendation is non-binding but a lot of effort and money goes into preparing for such a hearing so most people take the recommendation quite seriously.

 

What recommendations did the commission make?

In summary, the commission agreed with the Union’s stance on most of the issues.  The full report is available Here.

 

Did the Union/City accept the recommendations? 

The FireFighters were prepared to but we could never get the City to come back to the table. We tried multiple times to explain to the City that we would like to talk about the recommendations. We even stated that we were prepared to accept the recommendations even though they weren’t 100% in our favor. The reply was the same – they again felt that they had fulfilled their obligations.

 

What happened next? 

The Firefighters continued to request further negotiations. The City determined that they could make unilateral changes and in October of 2010, adopted a new employee handbook drastically altering working conditions and terms and conditions of employment.  Most significantly it changed the status of all City employees from “Employment for Cause” to “Employment at Will” as well as changes to the method by which employees accrue overtime.  Additionally, the new handbook takes away the oversight of the City Council and gives all authority to the City Administrator when making future changes to the Employee Handbook.

 

At this point the attorneys representing the firefighters became heavily involved and attempted to inform the City that what they were doing was unlawful according to state statute. With every attempt that we made to negotiate with the City we were met with the same response – they felt they had met their obligations and that they were free to make whatever changes they felt appropriate.

 

In April of 2011 the Ketchum Firefighters Local 4758 filed suit in the 5th District Court.

 

 

 Did the case get heard in 5th District Court?

It did, Judge Butler was the presiding judge. It was a two day trial where both sides presented their cases. The judge then took the next several weeks to determine his judgment and to prepare his findings of facts. In short Judge Butler ordered both parties back to the negotiating table and returned the Firefighters to the 2005 handbook. He also ordered the City to make the Firefighters whole for any losses they might have suffered from the change in handbooks and other unlawful unilateral changes make by the City.

 

 

Has the City accepted the Judge’s findings?

No.  When we tried to schedule additional negotiations after the Judge’s ruling the City insisted that we first agree to be “at will” employees before they would come back to the bargaining table, and the City has made no effort to make the firefighters whole for the losses they incurred as a result of their unlawful changes to our working conditions, as ordered by the Judge.  Additionally the City has filed an appeal with the Idaho State Supreme Court and filed two motions for stay of judgment, both which were denied.  After we went back to Court to enforce the Judge’s order, the City finally agreed to a date for further negotiations, currently set for July 16, 2012.


Why is the City is taking the stance they are taking?

The City’s main stance seems to be that they can’t afford what we are asking for. We don’t understand that stance as all requests for money or increased benefits were dropped at the bargaining table. In fact, we would have saved the City money as we signed tentative agreements that would have decreased the benefits the firefighters were enjoying under the 2005 Handbook. They have also stated that they will not have employees that are not “At Will”, but they have never explained to us why it is so important for them to be able to discipline or discharge us without cause.  We also don’t understand that justification since the Administrator and two Department Heads have contracts that have such huge golden parachutes they can hardly be considered truly “At Will”. These excuses are the only reasons the City has stated to justify spending tens of thousands of dollars to fight us.  Is it so they will be able to fire firefighters for no reason or is there some other personal agenda?  Regardless of the reason, taxpayers are footing the bill. 

 

Negotiations Resume

Finally on July 16th and 17th the negotiation teams for the FireFighters and The City of Ketchum resumed negotiations. The two days were extremely productive. Over the two days Mayor Hall and members of the City Council got directly involved and helped end the stale mate. For the first time in since negotiations ended in 2009 both parties were able to talk directly to each other and started to understand each others stances. Talks were extremely positive and the light at the end of the tunnel started to peer through the clouds. While there was still a lot of ground to cover and progress was slower than the FireFighters had hoped for, negotiations were scheduled to resume that fall. 

 

 

Negotiations in the Fall of 2012

After years of stalled talks and legal battles the negotiation teams met in the fall of 2012 and finalized what would be a tentatively agreed to contract between the Ketchum Professional FireFighters Local 4758 and the City of Ketchum. The contract would now need to go to each governing body to be ratified and signed.

 

 

Ketchum FireFighters Local 4758 initial Contract Ratified!

During the winter months of 2012 and early 2013 the Tentatively Agreed to Contract was scrutinized in detail by both parties and after all the proof reading was finalized the contract was ready to be signed. In the regular city council meeting held on February 19th, 2013 the Ketchum City Council unanimously voted to adopt and sign the contract. Later that same night the FireFighters ratified and agree to sign the contract as well. 

 

Elected Officials made the difference

The members of the Ketchum Professional FireFighters Local 4758 would like to extend a heart felt thank you to all of the elected official from the City of Ketchum. The positive end to this lengthy ordeal would likely have had a different out come. We strongly believe that what we have all agreed to is not only to the best interest of the parties involved but especially to the citizens and visitors of Ketchum and the Wood River Valley.

So....Thank you!

Now we ask the City of Ketchum to drop the pending Supreme Court Appeal. Since we have an agreement that we have all signed off on it seems that further conflict in the courts can only hurt the relationships we have struggled so hard to improve, not to mention the huge cost to the tax payers that could be avoided.

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