Everett wins court battle with firefighters union

EVERETT — A state labor-management agency has ruled in the city of Everett’s favor in a long, drawn-out battle with the firefighters union about overtime and staffing issues.

Local 46 in 2011 filed a complaint with the state Public Employment Relations Commission alleging unfair labor practices. An examiner ruled in the union’s favor later that year. The city appealed in January 2012.

The appeal was upheld Wednesday.

City officials on Thursday declined to comment about the ruling other than in a prepared statement from Fire Chief Murray Gordon.

In the one-sentence statement, Gordon said city leaders are pleased. They want to put the disagreements in the past and move forward, he wrote.

The firefighters are disappointed with the decision, Union President Paul Gagnon said Thursday. They believe the result is reduced service and staffing levels, he said.

“This PERC decision is a loss for firefighters and the citizens we serve,” he said.

The union in 2011 alleged that the city changed policies regarding firefighter overtime and staffing levels without bargaining with the union, and then refused to negotiate about the changes.

The initial ruling ordered the city to pay the firefighters what would have amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars in “lost” overtime. That also was overruled.

The union has stressed for years that the changes reduced services and reduced safety. In the ruling, the state said the union’s main concern was firefighters’ reduced opportunities to earn overtime.

Much of the argument between the union and city has centered on how emergency vehicles have been used and how many firefighters and paramedics are assigned to each rig. The union has referred to the changes as public safety “brown-outs.”

The new ruling says that the city made changes in accordance with the union’s contract. It also says the city hasn’t leaned on neighboring fire departments too much to respond to emergencies within city limits.

Overtime and overtime opportunities are part of wages and benefits and are therefore subject to bargaining, the state found. However, parts of the union’s contract waived bargaining rights for the types of overtime opportunities under dispute, the ruling said.

The 12-page ruling is available at http://tinyurl.com/everettlaborruling.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com

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