By RON DAVIES
"Unfortunate"—that's the word that could be used to describe the recent turn of events involving the city of Ketchum and the Ketchum Professional Firefighters Union-Local 4758.
It is unfortunate that what should have been a gentlemanly negotiations process ended up in the court system, where a judge had to tell the city to go back to the table. It's unfortunate that even though an official fact-finding took place, the city refused to follow its recommendations. It is unfortunate that both sides have spent thousands of dollars, yet an agreement still hasn't been reached.
But what is most unfortunate is that our local heroes are now in the news—not for what they do on a daily basis to save our homes and our families, but for asking for fair working conditions and reasonable job security. They've been accused of making the sort of demands that have contributed to bringing other cities to the verge of bankruptcy. They've been accused of hiding tapes, and union officials have been accused of making false, inflammatory statements. And the list continues.
Why do they continue to fight this fight and what is it that the firefighters want? They certainly do not want to bankrupt the city. In fact, during negotiations the firefighters did not request a wage increase.
What the firefighters want is to keep the same working conditions and benefits they had in 2005. They want the ability to be involved before changes are made to their working conditions and their terms and conditions of employment. They would like to know that they will be disciplined or terminated based on cause and not just the whim or will of the current administration. This is not an unreasonable request. The official Fact Finding Commission unanimously recommended that the city adopt a for-cause standard. No other Idaho city or fire district insists that its unionized fire department employees are "at will," meaning that their employer can fire them for reasons totally unrelated to their work performance, or for no reason at all.
The firefighters want to come back to the negotiating table and come to an agreement.
The firefighters have been nothing but forthcoming on all requests for information. Nothing is or has been hidden from the city, the court or the citizens. Their website, www.ketchumfirefighters.com, describes in detail every step, including how and why they unionized to begin with. Their chief has also been well informed throughout this process.
Contrary to Mayor Randy Hall's claims, the firefighters union was not responsible for recording contract negotiations. Both the local firefighters and the city had their own tape recorders there.
In today's political climate, it has become a tactic to drive public opinion with fear, not fact. Unions have become the scapegoats for problems that their members did not create. Although the mayor makes many unsubstantiated allegations in his guest opinion, his points are easily refuted. One would hope that before drawing conclusions, our friends, neighbors and citizens will ask questions and research for themselves. For example, the city's public records will show how much of the taxpayers' money the city has spent so far in legal fees on the negotiations and litigation with the firefighters.
Throughout the remainder of this process, the Ketchum Professional Firefighters will continue to be committed to their safety and the safety of their volunteers. They will continue to provide a high level of service to their community while striving to work cooperatively with their city officials.
Additionally, as members of the community and taxpayers themselves, they will always work to ensure fiscal responsibility, stability, fairness, justice and democracy for all city employees.
Ron Davies is president of the Professional Firefighters of Idaho, based in Pocatello.