October 1, 2014 - Call Newspapers By Mike AnthonyExecutive Editor
A representative of Local 2665 of the International Association of Fire Fighters told Crestwood aldermen last week that city staff "has been nonexistent to negligent in its response" to the union's efforts to schedule contract negotiations.
Local 2665 represents the city's firefighters, and 4th District Vice President Kurt Becker said union representatives have attempted to schedule contract negotiations with city officials since June 1, but to no avail. The city's current agreement with the local was set to expire Sept. 30.
He noted a 2012 Missouri Supreme Court ruling "mandated that employers collectively bargain with their employees and to do so in a framework that is defined by the judges' rulings as bargaining in good faith with the specific intent to reach an agreement ...."
Citing a memo he presented to the board, Becker said, ".... Since June 1 of this year, we have been attempting very diligently to schedule contract negotiations with the city of Crestwood. There have been six formal written correspondences submitted to city staff to commence that bargaining - documentation of all that correspondence is contained within this memo here. The extent of our response that we've received from city staff has been one email. Most of our correspondence has gone unresponded to.
"We are currently facing a situation where our contract is set to expire within days, and we have received absolutely no feedback, no affirmative response, candidly, no acknowledgement of most of the correspondence that we have sent to the city in an effort to commence bargaining with the city."
In addressing aldermen, Becker said he was not "looking to be confrontational, not looking to - in any way, shape or form - create an adverse relationship with the city of Crestwood, but we need some assistance from the elected officials because city staff has been nonexistent to negligent in its response to our inquiries and requests for bargaining. The Supreme Court set forth a very specific framework for this bargaining.
"I am making the city aware that the city is, at its staff's behest, currently bargaining in bad faith. By refusing to even acknowledge and schedule bargaining sessions, you are putting your city at risk for significant litigious efforts on our part. We don't want to go that route. However, we are being put in a position where we're not being given too many options here."
The union official said his hope was the "Board of Aldermen will exercise its authority and direct staff to expeditiously schedule bargaining sessions with our bargaining unit, and to do so in a manner that is very much in good faith and with an intent to reach an agreement ...."
Board President Mike Tsichlis of Ward 4 later addressed Becker's comments, adding that he would have liked to have had the information the union official presented to the board before the Sept. 23 meeting.
He noted that two representatives of the city's Fire Department addressed aldermen in May, citing significant savings on employee health insurance for 2014-2015 and requesting that Crestwood's contribution for health-insurance premiums be the same for all employees - 89 percent.
In a June 18 memo, City Administrator Mark Sime recommended that the four tiers for the city's contribution to employee health-insurance premiums remain unchanged.
On June 24, aldermen voted to retain existing percentages for the city's contribution to employee health-insurance premiums, rejecting the firefighters' request.
Referencing the firefighters' insurance request, Tsichlis said, ".... That proposal didn't go anywhere, but there was also what I could see at the time a lack of communication between the local's representatives and the city administrator. I thought I called him out about that at that meeting.
"So this really disturbs me that there's been a complete breakdown in communication between the local and between our city administrator. Now I have to ask our city administrator .... I guess you've been aware of their attempts at contacting you regarding setting up an agreement and you did not respond? Is that correct?"
Sime said, "That's incorrect."
Tsichlis said, "OK. Could you explain, please?"
Sime replied, "I've responded and also Fire Chief (Mark) Menning has responded .... Not all responses have been in writing, but we have made attempts to respond."
Tsichlis said, "OK. So in other words, you did respond, and I might ask you, how did you respond? Did you agree to meet or no...."
Sime said, "We told them that we were still reviewing their 50-plus-page document."
About every two weeks since June, the union has submitted requests to schedule bargaining sessions, Becker said.
Tsichlis again asked Sime about his responses to the union's requests.
Sime said, "We responded verbally and we let them know that we were reviewing their document."
Tsichlis said, "OK, is that true?"
Becker said, "That is inconsistent with my experience, candidly. My contact information is readily available to the city administrator (and) the fire chief. No one has contacted me and said, 'Hey, can you give us another month?' .... What we've experienced in other communities when we've run up to deadlines like this is frequently I'll be contacted by counsel from the city and asked to enter into a bridge agreement - a 90-day, a 120-day bridge agreement - so that the contract doesn't expire. No such communication has come our way ...."
Noting he hoped the matter would be resolved soon, Tsichlis later said, ".... I would say one last thing to our city administrator, if you have anything to say in response, this is your chance to do it before, you know, we move on because I think I've heard enough, too, now."
Sime said, "We received the proposal. We have been going through it. We have worked with the city attorney's firm (Lashly & Baer), and we are getting ready to start negotiations."
Ward 1 Alderman Richard Breeding asked, ".... What happens a week from today when Sept. 30 comes around and there's no agreement? Will there be the old MOU (memorandum of understanding)?"
Sime said, "My understanding .... from the attorney is that the old MOU will remain in place."
Breeding asked Becker, "Is that how you all see it, I hope?"
Becker replied, "That is clearly not the ideal scenario for us to operate under, candidly ...."
Breeding later asked Becker, "So at the end of the day, is our public safety in jeopardy here?"
Becker said, "Absolutely not. The members of the Crestwood Fire Department will take very seriously their obligation to the city of Crestwood and would never even consider any outcome as a result of any kind of bargaining session or lack thereof that would jeopardize the public safety of the city of Crestwood."
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