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SHERIDAN – The city of Sheridan and the Sheridan firefighter’s union, International Association of Fire Fighter’s Local 276, have begun their yearly round of negotiations.
According to George Neeson, president of the Sheridan Firefighter’s IAFF Local 276, particulars of this year’s negotiations can’t be discussed at this time. However, typical topics include wages, benefits, job description changes and any other issues that need to be discussed.
A joint press release said ground rules were discussed and progress was made at the first negotiation held Thursday.
“It usually goes very, very well,” Sheridan City Council member John Heath said. Heath is acting as liaison between the IAFF Local 276 and the city. He said the negotiations are required by state statute and that Sheridan is one of four Wyoming cities that participate in union negotiations.
According to Neeson, the International Association of Fire Fighters began in 1918. Ten years later, in 1928, Sheridan became one of the first fire departments to join the union. Sheridan’s union number — Local 276 — is low considering there are now more than 4,000 local union chapters. Cheyenne joined the union shortly after Sheridan, and Casper and Rock Springs joined within a few years.
“Wyoming was one of the first states along with New Jersey to put legislation in to give firefighters the right to fight for wages, benefits and working conditions,” Neeson said. “Firefighters can’t strike because they have to be there for emergencies, so they created legislation that allows firefighters to have a voice at the bargaining table.”
Each year, 120 days before the city finalizes and appropriates its budget, the IAFF Local 276 sends a letter to the city saying it wants to open up negotiations. Within 30 days, the first meeting is held. Neeson said each year varies on how many meetings it takes to reach a mutual agreement and sign the contract.
Once negotiations begin, members of the Local 276 present research on cost of living indexes, wages for regional and state firefighters, needs for health insurance and changes in job descriptions or working conditions to show what changes need to be made in the contracts.
If a mutual agreement is not reached, each party names an arbitrator who presents to a third, neutral arbitrator who makes the final decision that becomes law. There have only been four arbitrations in 85 years, Neeson said.
“There’s no other job in the region that compares to what we do, hour-wise,” Neeson said. “We work 52-hour work weeks. We’re different, so they gave us this right to give our word, and our ideas, and our input into how things should be. It’s a protection for everybody.”