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Fire district and firefighters fighting in court

Original post made on Dec 3, 2012

With both sides saying they hope for a fresh start, relations between the Menlo Park Fire Protection District and the firefighters union hinted at a thaw. Then they went to small claims court.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, November 29, 2012, 5:44 PM

Comments (24)

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Posted by Frugal
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 3, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Outsource or merge with a neighboring jurisdiction?


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Dec 3, 2012 at 3:57 pm

If both side truly wanted to resolve issues, this matter would have been settled years ago.

Despite the money the FF union spent on the last election, $50,000+, and endorsing Mr. Silano and Mrs. Kiraly, not much has changed in resolving contract issues.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 3, 2012 at 4:02 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Given that the firefighters' union refuses to return to the negotiating table how could anything be accomplished?


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Posted by Thelma
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 3, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Peter:
and how is this any different than what the APOA is up to in Atherton?


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 3, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"how is this any different than what the APOA is up to in Atherton?"

The AOPA comes to the negotiating table - the firefighters' union has refused to even sit at the table for 4 years. You cannot negotiate if the union won't even come to the table.


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Posted by Long time resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 3, 2012 at 5:19 pm

I agree with Frugal - why can't we outsorce if they won't come to the table?

The salaries are not particularly high but the defined benefit pension plan is.

When given the chance a city or agency should fight hard to convert to 401K type retirement plans.


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Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 3, 2012 at 6:08 pm

If they are not happy and don't want to meet, outsource or they can always go to another Fire Department. Do not feel you have to stay, Leave!! get another job, if you can!!


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 3, 2012 at 6:22 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I would note that the vast majority of MPFPD firefighters are doing a superb job and we are lucky to have them serve our community. However, the union leadership and their legal counsel have, in my opinion, lost all concept of what public service is all about.


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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 3, 2012 at 6:33 pm

Peter:

just as voters unhappy with their representation can replace their representatives, so too can our fire fighters. Yet, they don't. This leads me to believe they think what their representatives are doing is just fine. While I have a great deal of respect for what they do I don't think they deserve the cover that "it's their representatives and not them." Past posts on this very forum from those fire fighters, especially after they were able to install their selected candidates backs that up.


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Dec 3, 2012 at 10:55 pm

I agree with Menlo Voter's last post. I would also add the residents to that list of complacency. If many of them realized the salaries and benefits, working without a contract for 5+ years, and the bickering that exists, most residents would not be as sympathetic with the fire fighters as they might think especially given today's economic conditions.

I am grateful for my job and grateful to have a job and I don't bird dog my employer for 2 cents, etc. because I know I am replaceable. These fire fighters and all the employees should realize that they are replaceable. Maybe it's time for the fire department to consider other options and maybe it's time the residents get more vocal, not just the ones who post here.


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Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Dec 4, 2012 at 9:50 am

I too would echo the comments in Menlo Voter's post. I would like to add a couple of more comments. For those who immediately go to the call for outsourcing--technically, all of the communities served by MPFPD are in an outsourced mode. People seem to think the Menlo Park in the districts name means it that city's fire department and they just have contracts to cover other communites and unicorporated areas. The District is a seperate entity. The other comment relates to Peter's mention that the union has refused to "come to the table" for 4 years raises a big question in my mind that perhaps someone out there with labor law knowledge can answer. If a union refuses to negotiate in good faith for that period of time, isn't there some legal mechanisim in place to disqualify it as a recognized representative and force the members to recertify or something? I know if a company refused to recognize a union and negotiate in good faith that unions have legal avenues to force the company to the table


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 4, 2012 at 10:21 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Fire District did declare an impasse after three years of failed/absent negotiations and then imposed it own new contract - and having done so was then required to resume negotiations within a year. The union still refuses to negotiate.


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Posted by another voter
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 4, 2012 at 10:22 am

It seems that one of the challenges is the fact that the district covers more than one city, so it's much harder to mobilize community support for one side or another on issues. That's one of the tradeoffs when public services are outsourced.
A good labor lawyer could be very helpful.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 4, 2012 at 10:28 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Fire District has a superb labor lawyer - who shakes his head at the unions unprecedented tactics.


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Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Dec 4, 2012 at 11:18 am

A recommendation to those of you interested in this topic and thread. I would urge you to go to the MPFPD's web site and read all of the material they have posted related to the issues and the multiple attempts it has made to get the union to the table. I was impressed with both the informative content and the (hate buzz words, but..) transparency exhibited by the district board in posting both its communications to the union and the union responses. One only needs to read both to figure out pretty quickly which party is unwilling to negotiate. In fairness I also went to the firefighters website, their FB page and to the unions web page--lots & lots about pancake breakfasts and fun group/family pictures, but couldn't find a word on the subject of the labor contract or their grievences.


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Dec 4, 2012 at 12:30 pm

From WhoRUpeople's research it seems as if the fire fighters want people to think they are all about telling others they are saving lives and doing community service (pancake breakfast and egg hunt). But peel back the layers and there is more to the picture -- won't return to the negotiating table, want to nickle and dime the organization for everything, and originally wanted a double digit raise.

I'm sure if you look harder there is low morale because the fire fighters haven't gotten their way although they will say it's about respect (what was said in the last election). I'll even bet there has been some behind the scenes shenanigans.


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Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Dec 4, 2012 at 1:56 pm

Joe, you and I are on the same wave length. Due to my deep respect for individuals in fire and police service, I hope it is not the case from a rank and file standpoint; from a union standpoint, I'll need to be convinced it is otherwise at this point.


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Dec 4, 2012 at 5:20 pm

While I would tend to agree with you, WhoRUpeople, I think the rank and file has drunk the kool-aid because they seem to have the same leadership year after year, despite their recent election, and haven't really changed their tune.

My guess is they are union members first and fire fighters second. Sad.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 5, 2012 at 1:25 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"My guess is they are union members first and fire fighters second. Sad."

I disagree. Having spent 9 years as a Director of the Fire District I believe that many of our firefighters are total professionals. Like many citizens they have simply turned over the elected positions/labor union work to the few among them who have any interest in such things and they instead go about doing their job in a highly professional manner.

I remain perplexed as to why they defer labor issues to others but I am also perplexed that most citizens have no interest in the difficult work of governance.


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Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Dec 5, 2012 at 5:55 pm

Peter I completely share your final comment. It extends beyond this narrowly focused issue.


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Posted by Observation
a resident of another community
on Dec 5, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Peter, my guess is the FD Union is like any other organization or community.

There are a few leaders and may followers. It's always the same people who come to meetings. It's always the same people who offer to help get things done. And, it's always the same people who step up to take the arrows.

I don't buy your assessment that the leadership is not representative of the rank and file firefighters. The leaders were the ones with the gumption to volunteer and represent the others who want to sit back and watch from the sidelines.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 5, 2012 at 8:23 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"I don't buy your assessment that the leadership is not representative of the rank and file firefighters. The leaders were the ones with the gumption to volunteer and represent the others who want to sit back and watch from the sidelines."

I disagree. I believe that the majority of the firefighters simply want to do their job. The fire service is a very strong 'family' wherein each member automatically supports every other member - including their union leaders. As Norman Maclean so aptly stated "on
a big fire there is no time and no tree under whose shade the boss and the crew can sit and
have a Platonic dialogue about a blowup."

The union leaders are playing out a script that was set years ago and no one has the wisdom to say STOP. I know the current union president and I do not believe that he is anything but a fire professional. Sadly the union has committed itself to a bizarre path of confrontation and just doesn't know how to save face and come back to the bargaining table. Negotiation is not their skill set and they have chosen very confrontational labor lawyers to advise them.


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Posted by Joe
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Dec 5, 2012 at 9:02 pm

Peter, I respectfully, disagree with you. My guess is that there may be a very small percentage of individuals who don't support the union. However, they are either too few to make a difference or won't challenge the leaders. I'll bet the vast majority have bought into what the leadership has told them.

While I have respect for the job fire fighters do, I have difficulty understanding this reported need for more and more. Originally, they wanted an 11% raise. I haven't seen any report where the FF union was willing to make concessions, considering the condition of our economy. Many other public agency unions have made concessions or allowances. 6 years without a contract -- that's a long time. Maybe I missed it, but I don't see lots of residents rallying to give them a substantial raise or increase in their benefits. I believe that the passage of Measure L by Menlo Park citizens is sufficient evidence.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 5, 2012 at 9:11 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Joe - you are right. The Fire Board will not, in my opinion, do anything more to increase the salary or benefits of the firefighters. I think that the union knows that - in spite of their spending tens of thousands of dollar in the last election - and hence recognizes that they will get little from coming back to the negotiating table.

The union is in a no win situation and it has no idea how to get out of that position with any sense of honor.


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