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Friday, April 6, 2012

Monarch Sets April 5 as Date for Collective Bargaining Vote

By: Jim Erickson - News Magazine
The Monarch Fire Protection District Board of Directors and Local 2665 of the International Association of Fire Fighters have negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that will extend through 2013.

Plans originally called for the pact to be discussed and voted on at a March 15 Monarch Board meeting, but a glitch in preparing and posting the agenda for that session caused directors to delay final action until April 5.

While there was no action on the new contract, director comments during the brief discussion provided a glimpse of some key provisions. Among other things, the agreement:

• includes no increase in base salaries or in other salary provisions such as longevity pay

• scales back vacation days of fire fighters with 25 years or more of service from 18 shift days to 15

Board Secretary Steven Swyers said 28 Monarch employees are affected by the vacation days change, and that other employees will have the schedule for earning vacation days stretched out.

While base salaries have remained constant for six years – including the original three-year period of the current contract, a one-year extension that covered 2011 and the two year-period of the new agreement – overtime pay has skyrocketed. In pre-vote remarks, Swyers identified that issue as one the Board must address to meet the district’s scaled-back 2012 budget.

According to Swyers, overtime hours increased from 1,350 hours in 2006 to some 13,000 hours through the first 11 months of 2011. Those hours cost the district some $650,000, he said, a major share of the $1 million directors must save, compared with last year, to make the 2012 budget a reality.

Two contributors to the need for overtime were increases in sick time and worker’s compensation days, Swyers continued. Sick leave hours have more than doubled, from 6,200 in 2006 to 13,000 in 2011, while worker’s comp time off has more than tripled, from 3,500 hours to 11,100, during the same period.

“We need to look at those issues and deal with them,” Swyers stated, “and I was pleased with the firefighters’ attitude toward the problems we face. There definitely has been a feeling of collaboration between the Board, senior officers and the rank and file on these issues.”

The Board recently has approved a light duty program designed to bring employees back to work more quickly from the off-duty, worker’s comp roster. Similarly, Monarch directors have started a “constant-manning” schedule whose stated goal is to minimize overtime while assuring that essential work assignments are filled.

Constant-manning critics say the practice tends to inflate overtime needs, but Swyers maintains the program has been working well.

Swyers said the new contract also calls for giving employees “an extra day off or two at the discretion of management” as an incentive for not using sick leave as well as changes in other pay such as the yearly clothing allowance that has remained the same for a number of years.

Board Treasurer Robin Harris noted that he is concerned about the cumulative paid time off a Monarch firefighter potentially has with vacation time, sick leave, personal days and other time off. He did not say if his concerns mean he will oppose the new agreement.

Swyers said everyone could find parts of the contract they don’t like but that the overall document represents a “fair and reasonable” agreement for the district and Monarch taxpayers.

The original March 15 agenda did not include the new agreement among topics for consideration. A revised agenda posted later listed the CBA, and Board President Kim Evans made a motion to approve the contract.

However, Harris urged that “in the interest of transparency” the Board not vote on the issue at that session because anyone seeing the original agenda would not have known the contract was going to be discussed and acted on.

After discussion on whether the Board could legally bring up and vote on an issue not on the original agenda, Evans withdrew her motion in favor of a Board consensus to wait until the April 5 meeting. The Board was unable to get a legal opinion on the question because Charles Billings, Monarch legal counsel, was not at the meeting.

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