Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.  An online news service

Lake City News

Lake City Firefighter Negotiations Hobbled by Continuing City Failure to Provide Timely Access to Contract Documents

Lake City firefighters caucus during contract negotiations

More on the 2020 LCFF union negotiations:
Lake City Firefighters Set to Vote On Union Contract. Should They Be Treated Like Other City Employees?
September 30, 2020
Lake City Firefighter Negotiations Hobbled by Continuing City Failure to Provide Timely Access to Contract Documents
August 14, 2020
Third Round of LC Firefighter Negotiations Lays Groundwork for Monday's City-Union Match-Up
August 6, 2020
City Labor Atny to Firefighters: "We understand your position is the firefighters are underpaid."
July 30, 2020

LAKE CITY, FL – Lake City's firefighters have to respond at a moment's notice to the VA and the other two hospitals in Lake City, as well as many public schools, hotels, most of the County's businesses and multiple dwelling units and trailer parks. If one thought in return the City could provide the firefighters with timely access to on-going contract modifications they would be wrong.


Lake City's continuing inability to provide timely access to important City documents has been an ongoing problem that was carried over from the era of former City Manager Wendell Johnson.

Two years ago, Lake City's new City Manager, Joe Helfenberger, was going to fix the situation by making sure the public and others would have access to City agenda materials and other important documents a week in advance of meetings.

City Manager Joe Helfenberger prepares for firefighter union negotiations
City Manger Joe Helfenberger gets his papers ready for the negotiations.

As excuses added up, this was a promise that was never kept. Over time, everyone was blamed for the delays: the city attorney, city departments, the assistant city manager, others, but most of all the IT Department, which became one of the City Manager's "pin the tail on the donkey" prime scapegoats.

Two years of constant delays made delay the norm and the lack of concern by the top City brass and the City Council had City agenda material being delivered to the City Council many times after five o'clock pm on the Friday before Monday meetings, or other meetings, in which agendas were made available a day before or just before the meetings.

This systemic lack of concern hit the jackpot this past Monday morning when the Firefighter's Union did not receive the City's Firefighter Contract updates until 8:13 am, just 1 hour and 47 minutes before negotiations were to begin, only receiving them after union VP and negotiator Austin Thomas asked where the contract was.

The Negotiations

As soon as the negotiations got underway, City Labor Attorney Eric Holshouser asked if the union had received a copy of the latest incarnation of the City prepared contract.

Austin Thomas responded, "There were some discrepancies."

Mr. Thomas explained that HR Director Michele Greene had been communicating the entire time through personal e-mail because he was able to access it off-site when not at work.

Mr. Thomas explained that he "e-mailed Michelle at HR" this morning and asked if she was planning on sending the proposal? Mr. Thomas said Ms. Greene said the file was sent on Friday. He added, "But the union never received it."

Mr. Holshouser said, "I'll use your personal e-mail from here on out. I didn't realize it was a problem."

After a few more explanations regarding emails, the contract was discussed.

Mr. Holshouser said, "You can see where we've agreed to a number of the union's demands. We've agreed to a pay proposal... We feel you ought to take this back and get it ratified. If you don't we're open to see what thoughts you have about it."

Mr. Thomas replied, "I jotted down a few things this morning going over the contract real quick."

Mr. Thomas continued, "One of the reasons why we are here still negotiating is that we are trying to put together something that would solve the issue, or at least work toward it, basically keeping firefighters."

While addressing the percent-based pay matrix, Mr. Thomas complained that the new matrix gave one of the firefighters a pay cut that he should not have been given.

Lake City Fire Chief Randall Burnham during contract negotiations
Chief Burnham reviews the pay matrix as City Labor Attorney Eric Holshouser views the proceedings from a virtual world.

Chief Burnham pointed out that it was a typo and provided the new document right then and there, apologizing for the error without blaming anyone else.

Had the union had time to review the proposed pay plan, its negotiators would have seen that the City adopted the union's percent based proposal of having certifications being added as a percentage of a firefighters salary and all pay raises in the future would be based on a firefighter's total salary which included payments for certifications.

This means that certifications in the future would not be paid as bonus money.

Mr. Thomas said, "We want to accept this as part of the proposal."

Lake City Human Resource  Director Michele Greene
City HR Director Michele Greene takes notes during the negotiations.

He continued, "But, we'd like to see something in place that solves a little bit, or at least works towards solving, the issue of retention and recruitment."

Mr. Thomas said that he thought that because of the more stringent probationary requirements for new firefighters there should be a step increase on satisfactory completion of probation.

Mr. Thomas continued, "I feel if we can do that, we really might be on the verge of closing this negotiation."

Mr. Thomas also pointed out that unlike in the past when all health insurance was paid by the City, some firefighters now are paying for family plans. He said that health insurance for his family costs him $7,200 extra a year.

Chief Burnham pointed out that everyone is receiving a two dollar an hour raise and that raise converts to more money paid for holidays, paid time off, etc. The Chief said that if it is added up, fighters will be making "substantially a lot more money."

It was clear that the union's lack of timely access to the City's proposal was an impediment to meaningful negotiations and Mr. Holshouser asked if the union wanted to caucus.

The union agreed that it would be a good idea.

Lake City Firefighters during a contract caucus.
Firefighters caucus.

After about a half-hour of caucusing, it was clear that the union needed more time to review the pay issues with its membership.

The negotiations reconvened.

Mr. Thomas advised the City's Attorney that Article 14, the article which concerns pay, will require time to review by the union membership.

Mr. Thomas said, "I don't think your position is far from where we want to be financially... We will make a counter-proposal."

The next negotiation is set for August 25.

Comments  (to add a comment go here) 

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

Meeting Calendar
No need to be confused - Find links to agendas and where your participation is welcome.

Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.