State rules in firefighters' favor

Vancouver, union dispute settled; both sides say relations good

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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A state employment relations examiner ruled that the city of Vancouver violated state law by refusing to maintain grievance procedures with the Vancouver Firefighters Union.

The ruling is the second having to do with a series of 40 to 50 grievances filed by the firefighters union all related to the same topic, and brings the issue to a close.

Both union and city leaders said both rulings were inconsequential and just part of the labor process.

Vancouver will not appeal either decision.

In a ruling released May 14, state Public Employment Relations Commissioner Jessica Bradley found that Vancouver violated state laws when it denied a series of 40 to 50 grievances filed by the union, claiming it was not obligated to do so because the union's contract had expired.

The union filed a complaint with the state, and Bradley ruled that, just like pay and benefits, grievance procedures also remain valid when a contract has expired.

There is no financial consequence to the city; but the decision must be read aloud at a city council meeting and posted in City Hall.

Between March and August 2011, the firefighters union filed dozens of grievances, alleging the city was improperly applying some sick, vacation and out-of-class pay policies when firefighters swapped or filled in on shifts.

The labor commission ruled earlier this year in favor of the union in that case as well; the financial cost to the city in that ruling was "minimal," City Manager Eric Holmes said at the time. That decision also had to be read aloud at a city council meeting.

"I appreciate the continued professional and constructive relationship my office and the office of the Fire Chief has with (International Association of Firefighters) Local 452, and look forward to the results of our ongoing collaborative work examining how we can best provide sustainable fire and EMS service to the community," Holmes wrote in an email to the city council Thursday.

IAFF Local 452 President Mark Johnston also said much the same earlier this week.

"We still have a good relationship with the city manager and with the fire chief," Johnston said. "I don't see an ongoing effort by the city to attack the union or break the union."