Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City News

Lake City deep sixes firefighter's contract
City Manager tells the union, "Nothing will change."

Last night the City Council, based on the recommendation of City Manager, Wendell Johnson and the City's Labor Counsel, voted unanimously to declare the Lake City Firefighter's contract, which expired in 2006, null and void.

City Manager Johnson

City Manager Johnson said that over the past six months the City and the Union have entered into a dialogue for a new agreement.

Mr. Johnson said that the new City Personnel Policy and the City Classification Plan clearly spells out processes for employee pay and benefits.

Mr. Johnson did not say that the City Personnel Policy is not a contract and is not binding on the City.

It is not uncommon for unions to work for years, depending on an expired contract, until a new contract is negotiated.

Mr. Johnson said, "The existing union agreement has been outdated since 2006... The components of the agreement that have been important to the fire union have been not carried out since 2006 and that has to do with pay increases based on certain achievements each year... I want to enter into respectful and collaborative negotiations with the bargaining unit, should they choose to do so."

Summing up his remarks, Mr. Johnson told the City Council that the present union contract no longer suits the needs of the City or the Fire Department.

Union President - Dwight Boozer

Dwight Boozer – Union President

Mr. Boozer addressed the City Council, "I agree with Mr. Johnson wholeheartedly. A ratified contract is long overdue. What I am seeking now is what this action will actually accomplish."

Mr. Boozer asked, "Is it going to be business as usual, or tomorrow things are going to change in the Fire Department?"

Mr. Johnson answered, "I will commit to the Union tonight, to the Fire Department, and to the City Council that I will move in a cooperative relationship with the bargaining unit of the Fire Department to get them a new agreement in a timely manner."

Mr. Johnson continued, "It's not that I'm trying to take anything away from you or the Union. I think that the one [contract] you have now is problematic and convoluted in such a way that it causes more problems than it helps."

Mr. Johnson summed up his position: "There's no hidden agenda here with me. I can't speak for the Council, but I think in all fairness to the City and to the Union - if you've got something that obviously is not doing what you need it to do - do away with it... that's what I'm asking you to do tonight and that's what I'm asking the Council to support."

Mr. Boozer responded that the Union has been trying to negotiate a contract since 2006, telling the Council that every time they got close "something happened."

Mr. Boozer said that having interim city managers, instead of a permanent city manager, hindered the contract negotiations.

He told the City Council, "We have a proposal on the table... I don't want us to be without a contract. This sounds bad. I understand the process. If the contract stays in place, I don't see how that would hinder us in any way in negotiating a new contract."

Mr. Johnson told the City Council and Mr. Boozer, "I will honor everything that you've got today. You will continue to get it until a new agreement can be negotiated - nothing will change."

On the motion of Councilman Ward and with no discussion from the Council members, the City Council unanimously declared the Firefighter's contract null and void. 

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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