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Columbia County vs the International Association of Fire Fighters: Union issues again

The negotiating table in the County Annex as the PERC hearing got underway.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – "Good morning ladies and gentlemen. This is a formal hearing before the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission  in the case of local number 4895, Columbia County Professional Fire Fighters Association – International Association of Fire Fighters vs. Columbia County Board of County Commissioners. My name is Suzanne Choppin. I am the designated hearing officer in this case." So began this barely noticed public meeting, which once again pitted Columbia County against the IAFF.

On March 20, 2012, the Columbia County Fire Fighters Association filed union organization papers with the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC). Then, on April 2nd, the Commission accepted the Columbia County Firefighters registration. The local was born.

The County wants lieutenants to be included in the bargaining unit. Because they are supervisors, the Union believes that lieutenants do not belong in the bargaining unit.

The County failed to post the required "Notice To Employees" as required by law. The notice advises that an election is on the horizon for representation by a union.
                                                                                    Click here to see the complete notice.

The Union Position

As its bargaining unit, the Union included firefighters and driver engineers. The Columbia County fire department has 25 ff/driver engineers. These are not supervisory positions.

The Union collected 16 signature cards to organize.

IAFF vice president, Manly Bolin told the Observer, "We would have gotten more signature cards, but I think some of the men were afraid to sign."

The County Position

Columbia County wants to include lieutenants in the bargaining unit. Depending on the time of year the County Fire Department has 5 lieutenants.

The County submitted a "Lieutenant" job description to PERC. The County's job description barely mentioned a lieutenant's supervisory responsibilities to the men below him, the firefighters and driver/engineers.

Based on this document, the County claimed that lieutenants shared a "community interest" with the firefighters and the County questioned if there was a supervisory conflict of interest between lieutenants and the workers they supervised.

The County also claimed that excluding the department's lieutenants from the union would cause "unnecessary fragmentation."

According to the County's new Safety Director, David Kraus, this means that lieutenants wouldn't have to go out and form their own union because they would already be in one.

Newly Admitted Evidence

According to IAFF VP Bolin, the day before the hearing the union obtained the 2008 job posting, by the then Fire Chief Atkinson, for the position of "Upcoming Lieutenant Openings."

The County fought having this six page document accepted into evidence. This document was clearly in possession of the County when it filed its papers with PERC contesting the makeup of the bargaining unit.

Unlike the County submitted documents, this job posting clearly defines the supervisory nature of a lieutenant. Some of the essential functions listed are:

serves as a role model for subordinates; responsible for discipline within the assigned station and shift; serves as a liaison between subordinates and upper levels of management; listen to problems; assess training needs; interpret and administer department rules, regulations, and guidelines; train subordinates; conduct performance evaluations on subordinates and delegate assignments to subordinates.

After hearing the arguments, hearing officer Choppin accepted the six page document into evidence.

Where to now?

The hearing concluded. Hearing officer Choppin explained that she had 45 days to execute an order determining the contested issues. There will be delays as the County files, amends, re-files, re-amends and uses every legal maneuver available to forestall a decision by the hearing officer. Eventually there will be a decision.


What are they waiting for?

When it comes to being antiunion, Columbia County does not stand alone in this antiunion state.

In this instance, it would be nice if Columbia County used some common sense rather than squandering tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees in a battle, that based on the evidence so far, looks like they cannot win.

Discounting the County's hyper technical objections to the union's organizing effort, it seems certain that there will be an election. The County's fire fighters will vote and that vote will determine if the majority wants to be represented by a union.

The County Commission, those elected officials who have the final fiduciary responsibility to the people of Columbia County, can put a stop to the County's legal maneuvering and wasting of taxpayer dollars and just ask for a vote.

What are they waiting for?

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On May 25, 2012, citizen49a from Lake City wrote:

"The County failed to post the required "Notice To Employees" as required by law."

Well this is hardly a surprise, since in so many ways it's evident that the Cornbread Mafia that runs this place is intent on changing the way they conduct governmental affairs here.  From the attempt to change the charter to eliminate enhanced public notice, to restricting citizen's right to address the commission, to holding secret meetings after they've been publically announced as cancelled, the goal is clear: They want to inaugurate a new era of government in the dark.

The term "moonshine government" might be a more accurate descriptor of what they have in mind, since it connotes both criminal activity and working in the dark. They'll still go through their little rituals of pledging allegiance to the republic and invoking the blessing of God before they conduct meetings, but anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear  understands what they're really devoted to.  It's nothing that the republic or the Creator endorse.

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