CK Fire must respond to union's allegations

Officials at the Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue District have been told to respond to an unfair labor complaint filed by its union firefighters in March.

On Monday, CKFR Chief Scott Weninger said the district stands firm that it did not engage in any unfair labor practice.

The complaint was filed with the Washington State Public Employment Relations Commission, and after studying the complaint, the commission found in a preliminary ruling that "it appears that an unfair labor practice violation could be found."

The union's complaint, filed March 13 with the commission, claims that administrators at CKFR violated employees rights, discriminated against employees and ignored bargaining rights by decreasing the minimum number of firefighters needed per shift, and by creating new positions which reduced chances of overtime.

Union officials said the ruling by the commission gives credence to their position.

Union President Craig Becker said the fact that the commission is asking the district to respond shows that it sees the complaint as valid regarding reduction of staffing at the Chico Station.

He said it also shows that there was mistreatment of Union Vice President Ronny Smith.

CKFR Fire Chief Scott Weninger released a written statement at the time of the ruling which said "Central Kitsap Fire and Rescue continues to remain focused on the most critical issue facing our district at this time -- our pending economic situate. As an agency dedicated to serving the public, we are focused on our future ability to meet the needs of the community."

At Monday's meeting, Weninger made comments about the unfair labor practices complaint, saying that the district did not engage in any unfair labor practices.

"CKFR will be filing an answer by May 8," he read in a statement. "CKFR looks forward to its opportunity to respond to the complaint."

The statement had nine bullet points among them: that the district's local collective bargaining agreement gave CKFR the right to make changes in minimum staffing because the district was restoring levels that existed as recently as April 2009.

Following the meeting, Weninger said he expects to make a presentation on the complaint at a board meeting sometime in June.

IAFF Local 2819 officials said they look forward to "resolving the many outstanding issues identified in the complaint filed with the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC). We are very fortunate to be comprised of extraordinary fire service professionals that, despite the virulence demonstrated toward this Union, have continued to operate at an extremely high level. Since the establishment of IAFF Local 2819, the men and women of our organization have consistently dedicated themselves to providing the finest service in Kitsap County."

The union's complaint stems from a decision last fall by the district's chief and board of commissioners to reduce overtime by reducing its minimum staffing standard from 19 to 17 per shift.

In 2013, the district paid $900,000 in overtime which was often accrued when firefighters were on vacation, ill, or gone for training and other firefighters were called in on overtime to meet the 19 per shift minimum.

To eliminate the need for so much overtime, the board approved dropping the minimum staffing from 19 to 17, which means that there is a minimum of 17 firefighters on staff throughout the district during any given shift.

Firefighters have said that with the reduction in minimum staffing, firefighters are being subjected to unsafe workloads and working conditions.The complaint also states that the district added two positions at the administrative level -- an administrative lieutenant and an information technology manager -- without bargaining with the union.

The union has asked for an in-depth analysis on the reduction of staffing minimums and how that might impact response times, but the district has not released that information and it is not clear if that analysis was ever performed.

Coupled with that is the union's complaint that two employees, Ronny Smith and Justin Brown, were punished for releasing information about two calls in a letter titled "Minutes Matter."

The letter highlighted two calls where both patients survived, but questioned whether the outcome would have been different if career firefighters had not been on duty those days at the Chico Station. The Chico Station is the station that goes "dark" when staffing minimums cannot be met. At that point, it is staffed with volunteers only.

Smith and Brown were disciplined for releasing information in the letter that the district said was protected. Smith received a three day suspension and Brown a disciplinary warning. Brown received a written reprimand from CKFR on March 13.

The minutes matter letter stated date, time and location of the calls and general descriptions of "an elderly male experiencing respiratory failure" but did not contain patient's names.

Neither Smith or Brown had received HIPPA training prior to the incident, Smith said, although the district is now scheduling video training for all employees. That video was shown to CKFR commissioners at this week's board meeting.

According to documents requested under the public records act, CKFR has spend more than $30,000 in the past two months on legal fees. While the documents were redacted so that is was not possible to determine what costs were attributed for the pending complaint, the district's legal bills have doubled since the issue of reduced minimums surfaced.




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