Friday, January 13, 2012

Ketchum appeals to Supreme Court over union negotiations

Union attorney says move is delay tactic and waste of taxpayer money

Express Staff Writer

The city of Ketchum has appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court on a district court's ruling that it must continue contract discussions with its firefighters union.

The city filed a notice of appeal in 5th District Court on Jan. 9.

The city claims that it is not required to continue discussing all unresolved issues after having met in good faith.

Attorneys for Local 4758, the International Association of Fire Fighters, AFL-CIO, filed a lawsuit last April in 5th District Court against the city after contract negotiations failed to yield agreement on all points, and, according to the union, the city refused to return to the bargaining table.

The union contends that violations occurred when Ketchum unilaterally made changes to terms and conditions of employment while the parties were engaged in collective bargaining, the city refused to engage in collective bargaining as required by statute and it refused to execute the agreement reached between the parties.

The union also disagrees with some employment contract provisions, including at-will status of city employees. The previous version stated that employees could be terminated only for cause.

Following a two-day trial last autumn, District Judge John Butler directed the parties to continue negotiations. There have been no negotiations for more than two years.

"We're going to now see what the Supreme Court has to say about this other ruling [the district court ruling] we received," said City Administrator Gary Marks.


Union attorney James Piotrowski called the filing a costly delay.

"This appeal is merely another effort by the city to indefinitely delay the simple task of sitting down and talking to its own employees to try to reach agreement," he said in an email. "This whole process has cost and will continue to cost the Ketchum taxpayers money for the city's private attorneys."

He said firefighters have been sensitive to financial issues facing the city and did not make demands that would cost the city substantially more than it was already paying.

"This dispute now appears to be about the city taking a position of opposing the union no matter how reasonable its requests are, and using scarce taxpayer dollars to advance the philosophy of a few individuals in city government," he said.

He also contended that the notice of appeal sets out issues that don't accurately reflect the district court's decision, in an attempt to convince the Supreme Court that the district court reached a different decision than it actually did.

"The Ketchum firefighters are confident in their legal position," he said.

Firefighters are for now still working under rules of the employee handbook that were in effect before the union was formed. Piotrowski said the city could ask for a stay of the district court's judgment until the appeal is heard, but had not done so as of Thursday morning. He said it could be a year before the appeal is heard.

Rebecca Meany:

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