There is a fine line between standing your ground and fighting a battle you have already lost.
On March 20, 2013, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Sheridan firefighters union, International Association of Fire Fighters Local No. 276, ordering the city of Sheridan to compensate Sheridan firefighters for “step increase” pay raises.
Every spring, city staff and representatives from the firefighters union hold negotiations to discuss wages, benefits, working conditions, job description changes and other issues. The two parties then draft contracts for that year before the city finalizes its budget.
Facing budget issues in 2010, the Sheridan City Council voted to freeze the salaries of all city employees.
The city sent a memo to the fire department in September 2010 stating annual 5 percent step increases in pay would be suspended, effective July 1, 2010.
The union believed that action from the city violated the contract that had been negotiated.
The city believed the contract language did not explicitly guarantee the increases. Initially, the courts agreed with the city, and the 4th Judicial District Court ruled that the city did not owe the wages. That decision was overturned in March.
The total owed to four firefighters was $6,651.78. It cost the city approximately $40,000 to see the court case through to the end.
Now, here we are, a short six months later and the city is likely facing another lawsuit from the IAFF Local No. 276.
City attorney Greg Von Krosigk has advised the Sheridan City Council to once again deny the step increases, arguing that the Wyoming Supreme Court decision and its impact was limited only to the 2010 agreement and does not bind future Councils to the pay increases.
Neither the union nor the city clarified the language within the 2012 agreement, but Von Krosigk believes that the denial of the raises clearly shows the city had no intentions to pay the step increases. This, it seems he believes, will prompt the Wyoming Supreme Court to rule in the city’s favor.
The union, though, believes the Wyoming Supreme Court decision did clarify the language and the increases are due to three firefighters, an amount that would total approximately $10,000.
Other city employees have seen merit or scale increases since 2008 and the city has repeatedly emphasized their lack of funding to provide such raises.
Members of the Sheridan City Council said Monday night during their regular meeting that they do not want to approve raises for some city employees without providing raises for all. It wouldn’t be fair, they say.
Yet it is difficult, and perhaps rightfully so, for city employees to understand land purchases, annexations, pathway extensions, ongoing street projects and other city expenses that could instead be helping employees pay their increasing cost of living.
A phrase repeated often in city hall is that city staff is learning to do more with less. It is said with pride as city staff have busted their tails to continue the city’s expansion.
It is true that all staff deserve raises for what they have accomplished.
The city will likely stand their ground and continue to deny the step increases firefighters believe are owed to them in their union contract.
The pricetag to stand that ground will likely cost the city more than the raises themselves, further injuring the chances of other city staff being awarded merit or scale increases, and likely deepening the divide between the city employees in the fire department and those in other city departments.