SHERIDAN — City Council and a representative of the local firefighters union began negotiations on the contract for Sheridan firefighters at the regular council meeting Monday, but failed to come to any kind of agreement on ground rules or proposals for changes to the contract.
Following a Wyoming Supreme Court ruling in December, all contract negotiations between the union and the city must now be conducted at a public meeting with a quorum of city councilors present.
This has placed both parties on new ground as they are used to sitting down at a table and passing proposals for changes to each other simultaneously to open negotiations.
At the April 21 City Council meeting, union representative George Neeson requested that the union and the city both submit desired ground rules at the next meeting, try to come to an agreement on them and then proceed with sharing proposals.
However, after hearing the city’s proposed ground rules, which included that all proceedings must be conducted under parliamentary procedure with a motion and second to open discussion and a vote on all matters as well as operating in a proposal/counter proposal format rather than with simultaneous exchange of proposals, Neeson said agreement on ground rules would never be reached and the negotiations should just proceed as best as possible.
Council President John Heath also proposed that negotiations be limited to 30 minutes. City Attorney Greg Von Krosigk said that time frame may be difficult because it would only allow an hour of negotiations between Monday’s meeting and the next council meeting before the 30-day negotiation limit was reached and the parties would enter arbitration.
At that point, City Council voted to adopt its list of ground rules, with the 30-minute limit, and did not incorporate any of Neeson’s proposed ground rules.
“For your information, I will not agree to your ground rules and I will be operating under what I believe my ground rules to be,” Neeson said.
Neeson then presented his proposed changes to the contract which included changes to dates; removal of items no longer applicable to firefighter operations; a request that union negotiators receive up to three days off with pay to attend trainings on how to negotiate with a full quorum of city councilors; a request that any firefighters involved in negotiations receive paid time off for one hour preceeding and one hour following the negotiation time since negotiations are now held at City Council meetings that may conflict with firefighter negotiators schedules; and an adjustment to the step scale for pay increases to make it an even 5-by-5 scale with the typically agreed upon 5 percent pay increase for step increases.
Neeson said the proposed step scale was not even, giving sometimes less than 5 percent and sometimes more than 5 percent increases with different steps on the scale.
After Neeson’s presentation of proposals, Kinskey made a motion to table the matter so that city staff could analyze the proposals and make a recommendation to City Council on how to proceed. Kinskey said council would make a counter proposal at the next regular meeting. The council voted 7-0 to approve tabling the matter and negotiations ended at that point.
“I had two or three more rounds in me,” Neeson said following the meeting. “I’m disappointed the ground rules the city accepted tonight were their ground rules with a small modification brought forth by one of their own council members. Negotiations require both of us to agree on something, so if we can’t both agree on the ground rules, there really are no ground rules.”
Neeson said if agreement can’t be reached by the next meeting, both sides will choose an arbitrator, and those arbitrators will choose a neutral arbitrator to proceed over further negotiations, which could carry on for months.