It's been a while since I've gotten on and asked; yet this one particular subject has been on my mind.

This is directed at full-time/paid career firefighter, no offense to the vollies but this is in relation to paid departments.

My department just recently allowed our union's contract with the city to expire. In it the major issue covered in it was we agreed to work-up in rank to receive certain benefits(it's a bit more in depth but this is as cut and dry as it gets). By working-up I mean instead of paying a captain overtime to fill the vacancy of a captain on a different shift a driver from that shift will assume the duties of the vacant captain, and then a firefighter/hoseman will assume the duties of the now vacant driver position, this allows for the department to pay overtime to a hoseman to work in the now vacant hoseman position. Basically it is much cheaper to pay the lowest man on the totem pole OT than it is to pay an officer.

Now that our contract has expired we are no longer working up, and due to this it is causing chief officers and captains to generate overtime which is taking out a significant chunk of the alotted overtime budget. The city council/mayor/city administrator are all unhappy with this situation and are looking into filed charges against us and have a judge see what their rights are and if they can be allowed to FORCE us to work-up. There is nothing in civil service law that requires us to do so. The city council is also looking into getting civil service law changed so that they are not hit with this predicament ever again.

So what I am trying to get at is, how does your department handle working-up? Are you required to work-up or is it a choice. And also, if you're a member of a Local and you are currently working without a contract what are you doing to pursue future negotiations and get a contract again?

This is the first time in over 20years our department has been without a contract, and we just recently stopped working up in rank. As it stands we are not forced to, you are asked to and if you turn it down then they will pay someone of whatever rank is vacant OT to fill the vacancy.

If you have any question or have trouble understanding my initial question feel free to ask so that I can better explain it to you.

Thanks for any responses in advance,

-Jonathan Logue LCFD

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We don't really have the same system set up, but from the way it sounds, you don't have much recourse.
 
For us we have "work-ups" set for trades, swaps, etc as one up or one down in rank. This means  a captain can trade with a lieutenant, a lieutenant can trade with either a captain or engineer, and engineer can trade with a lieutenant or firefighter. When it comes to calling in OT, you call in for what made you short, but can also go one rank down. So let's say a captain position creates the OT, other captains are called first, if none take it, then it goes to a lietenant. If none take it then the most junior lieutenant will be ordered in.
 
Where more of the issues have come in was doing what you described to cover open spots. The battalion chiefs (who set the roster) have tried to move other people up and then call in OT for more junior members. There have also been times when say a lieutenant was working a trade for an engineer and the BCs tried to move them up to a captain spot. This has been successfully grieved and there is an SOG in place spelling out how such moves are made. For a trade, you work the spot of the person you traded with, if there is a vacancy, you call in what made you short.
 
 So basically, the next day's roster is made up the previous day, instead of calling people a day ahead for potential OT, the spots are left open. The morning of, the BCs will call people for OT. Since we have endurred some cuts, we don't staff a ladder if we are at or below minimum staffing. So there may be times where a shift LT may be in a driving position the day before, but if a captain vacancy occurs, then that shift LT can be bumped up to act as the captain and perhaps no OT would have to be called in.
 
 
Now, since you are now working without a contract, I really don't know the recourses for LA, since you are a Right to Work state. For us, we have worked without a contract a couple times, but during those times you revert back to the old contract for operations etc. So for us, if we didn't have a contract settled, we wouldn't have to worry about things suddenly changing as you may see.
 
The city council/mayor/city administrator are all unhappy with this situation and are looking into filed charges against us and have a judge see what their rights are and if they can be allowed to FORCE us to work-up.
Why would the city look to file charges, when they are the managing end of the contract? Point being is the contract agreement should be with the city, meaning the mayor and council, as well as the fire chief and administration. So if the city council and mayor don't like what is happening, then really, it is their own fault. I would be looking into using such info politically and as a union, contacting the council members and mayor to point out this aspect is now occurring because there isn't a contract. 

Jonathan

 

Well this is definately an interesting concern. One that only paid department experience can expound upon. For us, we do not allow as you call it, "work up". In our contract, it states when a person is out on vacation, sick, etc. That his or her position will be filled by either a swap or overtime with a member of the same rank.  The work up rule you have is interesting. Did you guys agree to this in a contract as part of a concession?  Meaning you agreed to bump everyone up and backfill the bottom with overtime thus making the overtime budget last longer. For us, the concern was the bump up guy could be lacking qualification to be an officer, or has no desire to act as the officer, or driver. The other issue is it is a change in a persons job description and responsibility. Whether the person is qualified or lacking desire to do the job, that can be a safety issue for others. 

 

Now when your contract actually expired, why would the department's administration decide to change the way you were operating the overtime budget?  Some contracts have verbiage that states, if you are out of contract and in the process of good faith negotiations, that your previous contract's rules and verbiage will be honored for a certain length of time. It sounds to me that you do not have that specific language and the department decided to change the way it is filling overtime. But my question to you is why would they willingly pay the higher paid rank overtime when you had the cheapest policy in effect before?  Now without a contract, you are essentially at the mercy of "management rights", they can change the way you are operating because the verbage in your contract has expired.

 

We just signed a new contract in July of this year, and with the recent push to make NH a Right to Work state, we as a union decided just before our last contract expired, to offer the city two years with no raises, to protect the integrity of the contract. Meaning, if and when our contract expired, there was a chance if the right to work law was passed by our state, we would essentially be considered a social group without any bargaining rights. Our law was worded that if and when a contract expired, the city or municipality does not have to honor any collective bargaining rights.  So it made sense to conceed or offer the 2 year extension without a COLA. 

 

If anyone is on the hook for the increase of your overtime budget, the Fire Chief should be concerned that his bosses won't be asking him for his resignation. The union is not the one who caused the increase, unless I missed something... 

John we had trade-time in our contract which allowed you to trade a shift with someone of your own rank or if they were of the rank above you then you had to be on the eligibility test list in that rank (hoseman who has taken the driver test and passed can trade time with a driver, driver who has taken captain test and passed can trade with a captain, etc.) But since we are working without a contract we have lost that benefit. We don't have LTs in my dept either the rank is Firefighter/hoseman, Driver/engineer, Captain, District Chief, and Assistant Chief (fire suppression line ranks).

Exactly the point we are trying to get across to them, it is their fault; in essence they have to reap what they sow. We have tried for the better part of the year to express to council the recourse that would follow if contract negotiations were to end without a contract. Only now that they are seeing the damage the OT budget is going to cost them are they wanting to do something about it. And the only answer is to spend tons of money in legal fees and court costs to try and change state law and more than likely fail instead of just paying us more.... makes sense right?

Yes this is agreed upon in our contract that in order to save the city overtime we will work-up. For example if we have $500 to use daily (random number) for OT and the Asst. Chief from A-shift is out sick it is cheaper to make a Dist. Chief work-up as AC, a Captain work-up as DC, a Driver work-up as Captain, a Hoseman work-up as driver, and pay hoseman from C-shift overtime to fill in the vacant hoseman slot because the OT for a hoseman is only $100 whereas paying an AC OT it would take the whole $500.

Now that we are no longer working up and have an AC a couple captains and drivers on vacation, and several people on extended sick leave our OT budget is being used up at an accelerated pace and will soon go over budget for the fiscal year unless something is done about it.

We've had the concern about having an inexperienced hoseman driving or even a driver being an officer of a truck; but in order to workup you have to have taken and passed the civil-service test for that rank and be on the eligibility list.

As far as why this system is changing is because for more than 20yrs we were in contract and we were set to operate in this fashion. In fact, there was never anything in the city's policy on how to pay the fire department, it was all in contract. So over the past week they recently passed 5 new ordinances to amend the city's personnel policy to include paying firefighters, OT, holidays, vacations, and sick leave. Everything had been in our contract set in stone, including our work schedule. Yes we are now at their mercy and they can change what they will (in accordance with state law and civil service law) but it was a step our union decided to take.

Basically to put it simply; we had been extending our contract in good faith for several years without a pay raise with the city saying they wouldn't forget uswhen the time came for a raise in pay. Every year they reopened our contract for negotiations and just took and took more benefits from us; we agreed so as to not lose what little benefits we still had in our contract. Finally we decided we couldn't take it anymore and let the contract expire. We had saved them hundreds of thousands of dollars by working up and getting our sick leave under control, yet they still didn't offer usanything in contract negotiations.

As it stands the chief cannot force us to work-up because of state law and civil service law, which is why the city council is attempting to change these. Our city (the people) is behind us 100% and is in our favor, it is the city council and mayor who majorly dislike the fire department. Our last attempt at getting a raise was to put a millage (property tax) on the Nov '12 ballot, it wouldn't cost the city (city hall) any more out of their budget and it would be the people footing the bill. This would have to be voted on by the people so if it didn't pass we would understand. The council voted unanimously against putting this on a ballot; and the citizens were irate about this not giving them the option to vote on the matter. So now our union is in the process of getting the information out to the public about what is going on day by day and what parts of the city are having trucks "Browned-Out" and how this is going to affect our ISO rating, as well as other topics that our local news station and local paper will not put out because they are ran by the city council...

Sorry if I got off topic a bit and started to ramble. My main question is still, how does your department deal with Overtime and filling in vacant positions, do you allow working-up in rank and if so how is it performed, and are you currently in a contract with your AHJ?

Thanks again for the prompt responses.

-Jonathan

[Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach’s administration will seek a court ruling on its authority to force firefighters to fill temporary staffing vacancies.

Roach said Thursday that a state attorney general’s opinion, which is supported by the state’s civil service examiner, contends that public agencies do not have that power.]--Taken from our local newspaper just recently. Apparently they are looking into the law to see if they can force us to work-up and so far as it stands they do not have that power.

We have always had a "work-up" system.  Our in-service training allows people to train up for the next rank, once they become qualified they are eligible/liable to "act-up" into that rank.  It's seen as a way of getting experience in the role and testing your abilities in it.

However, if you act-up you also get paid at that rank, ordinary time, over time it doesn't matter, you get paid at the rate for the rank.

As for your contractual liabilities now your collective agreement has lapsed well I guess, as was said in an earlier post, that's down to the fine print.  Don't forget though, if you are not bound by the old contract neither is the other party.  There may be implications in that!

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