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City fire contract talks continue

SHERIDAN — Members of Sheridan City Council and a representative of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local No. 276 union continued contract negotiations Monday at the regular council meeting.

At the last negotiation held May 19, the city made a counter proposal that consisted of a new contract that condensed the original 18-page contract into five pages. The city said it hoped this new contract would clarify and streamline a contract that’s been reworked and tweaked for 30 years.

Monday, union representative George Neeson said the city’s proposed contract left out key issues that were important to the union, so he didn’t want to accept it.

Neeson said major changes to the contract should not be brought one month before the contract and budget need to be approved. He said the union and city officials should sit down in November or December this year and begin talking through a “clean slate” contract at that time so both parties have time to contribute and negotiate.

“I can’t agree with your argument that you’re just trying to clarify language because you removed a lot of language that affects us. I can’t agree to that,” Neeson said. “The changes need the consent of both parties. It has to work for both sides in order for this to be fair.”

It is the union’s responsibility to open contract negotiations each year.

Neeson presented the original contract he’d presented May 5, with a few modifications to the union’s requested changes in hopes of finishing up the negotiations in time for the city’s budget adoption.

He removed the request that firefighters be paid for their time spent in negotiations when it conflicts with their work schedule and they must take time off, which the city had requested in its proposal. He kept the pay scale because the city had agreed to it. He kept the word “shall” in a paragraph indicating the city would give pay increases to firefighters who moved up on the step pay scale since the city said it would do so. In its proposed contract, the city had said it “may” give step increases if able.

“Basically what we’re offering is the same contract we’re under now. We’ll call it a rollover contract,” Neeson said.

Mayor Dave Kinskey said the city and firefighters are not under a contract now but rather an arbitration ruling.

Essentially the two parties agreed on wages and benefits but could not agree on whether it was acceptable to propose entirely new contracts. Another point of dissension was whether the contract should be “evergreen” or year to year.

“Really, all rhetoric aside, the only issue is what we talked about last night about how long the contract lasts,” City Attorney Greg Von Krosigk said.

Von Krosigk said in 2013-2014, the city operated under an arbitration ruling, not a contract. In years prior to that, the old contract had a provision that if new terms weren’t negotiated, the contract would rollover, essentially serving as an evergreen contract.

However, this year, with the break in the chain of contracts, the city thought it was a good time to start with a clean slate and make a contract that has a one-year term, essentially saying negotiations each year would be with a clean slate, not altering an old contract the city considers cumbersome.

Neeson said Monday that the contract cannot be changed unless the union agrees to the changes, which Von Krosigk said made the contract permanent, even though state statutes only allow it to last two years at most.

Neeson said the contract is not permanent if it is changed and negotiated each year, but Von Krosigk disagreed.

“On the face, it appears to be compliant with the law by saying we negotiate every year, but in spirit it violates the law because we negotiate but can’t change anything unless you say we can,” Von Krosigk said.

Von Krosigk said the council is worried that approving a rollover contract violates the Mariano Law, which says councils cannot enter into contracts that bind future city councils.

Kinskey said he had been looking forward to Neeson bringing proposed changes to the city’s proposed contract, but since that didn’t happen, the city will now bring a counter proposal to Neeson’s proposals at the next City Council meeting June 16.

About

Hannah Wiest is the government and outdoors reporter for The Sheridan Press. She has lived in Colorado and Montana but loves her sunny home state of Wyoming best. She joined The Press staff in February 2013.

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