Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Firefighters lob new allegations against city

Union asks judge to hold Ketchum in contempt of court

Express Staff Writer

The city of Ketchum and its full-time firefighters union continue to be at loggerheads over contract negotiations. The dispute landed parties in court last fall. But as an appeal is pending, the union has filed another complaint in District Court, alleging the city refuses to meet in good faith as directed.

"We're asking [the court] to impose some kind of penalty until they actually sit down and meet with the union," James Piotrowski, attorney for the firefighters, said in an interview. "They've been ordered to do so. It'll be up to the judge to, first, determine if they have failed to comply, and, [second,] how to ensure compliance."

In its motion to hold the city in contempt of court, filed in 5th District Court on May 15, Local 4758, International Association of Fire Fighters, AFL-CIO, alleges that the city has been defiant of an earlier court ruling directing it to resume negotiations over the firefighters' employment contract and has changed terms and conditions of their employment, also in violation of a court order.

"... [T]he City of Ketchum has engaged in precisely that conduct which this Court stated would constitute unlawful surface bargaining were either party to so engage, and has compounded that conduct by engaging in new violations of the law by unilaterally changing terms and conditions of employment," states the memorandum in support of the motion.

The union contends that the city refuses to meet and discuss any issue unless it can first have its way on a single issue, that of the at-will status of employees.

"The City is now making threats of impasse, despite the fact that no additional bargaining has actually occurred," the memorandum states.

City officials said they were surprised by the union's latest court filing, saying they offered multiple dates to meet but received no response.

"It is puzzling that the union did not respond to our request to meet while filing a motion of contempt that the City is refusing to negotiate," Mayor Randy Hall said in a statement sent to the Idaho Mountain Express. "Nevertheless, we are in the process of preparing another letter suggesting additional dates to meet."

In a letter to Piotrowski, Ketchum city attorney Paul Fitzer said Piotrowski was "mischaracterizing our position, the extent of negotiations already undertaken, and nefariously evading the very purpose of the correspondence governing the 'recommencement' of collective bargaining."


The union is asking the court to hold the city in contempt, impose a conditional sanction that would be applied if the city does not comply with the court's order, compensate all firefighters for any lost overtime accrual occurring as a result of the city's changes in accrual rates and rescind all unilateral changes in employment terms and conditions.

Ketchum's full-time firefighters joined the International Association of Firefighters in 2009, forming Local 4758.

The union filed the initial lawsuit in April 2011, alleging that violations occurred when the city made changes to terms and conditions of employment without union input while the parties were engaged in collective bargaining, when it refused to engage in collective bargaining as required by state law and when it refused to execute an agreement reached between the parties.

Piotrowski said contract negotiations have gone on far longer than necessary.

"The issues at the bargaining table aren't that difficult," he said. "It appears to us that [City Administrator] Gary Marks and the city's lawyers are engaged in some sort of ideological battle against firefighters and their union, and using taxpayer dollars to do so."

He estimated the city has spent more than $100,000 just to avoid entering into a contract with the firefighters.

Hall provided a far smaller figure, saying the city has spent $28,000 defending its position.

Piotrowski said the court will set a hearing on the motion and proceed from there.

"It's been a long time already," he said. "I know the firefighters would like to see this resolved. I would think the taxpayers also would like to see it resolved."

Hall said the city also would like to see the matter resolved.

"We are confident that we are following Idaho law and that the city will prevail in court," he said.

Rebecca Meany:

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