SHERIDAN — IAFF Local 276 representative George Neeson continues to butt heads with the Sheridan City Council in negotiations to establish a new contract for the firefighters union. Neeson and the council spent nearly an hour Monday discussing proposed contracts and counter offers, to no avail.
The city has boiled down a nearly 20 page contract to about a half-dozen pages, but Neeson said the language that was cut had been built up over many years for a reason.
“Every part that of that contract that I haven’t erased or crossed out and red-lined out is important to us. That’s why I bring the whole thing,” Neeson said. “It’s not that its 40 years old, because in those 40 years we’ve dealt with the issues that have occurred and we added that language into that contract to deal with issues so they don’t come up again. So it saves all of us some time, it saves grievances that would be based on subjective behavior. So I believe that every word that I put in there at this point in time is important to us.”
He added that he is frustrated that the union’s proposal hasn’t been redlined or edited, but essentially thrown out so the city could start from scratch.
“Your wholesale changes to the contract, in our opinion, are not acceptable,” Neeson said. “They eliminate all the language that we’ve worked on getting for probably 40 years.”
The council, though, has expressed reluctance to continue forward with a contract that has been added to and modified over a 40-year period. It has, they said, become convoluted and muddied.
The contract proposed by the city was amended Monday to include some concessions to the firefighters union. The city has agreed to merit increases based on satisfactory performance evaluations — an issue that has created tension and Wyoming Supreme Court cases between the two parties in the past. But the terms of the contract will only be good for one year, not “evergreen” as has been past practice. City attorney Greg Von Krosigk said that change was made because current councils cannot bind future councils, though Neeson disagreed.
The city repeatedly asked Neeson to go through the city’s proposed contract and make changes and counterproposals to what has been laid out thus far. If something of importance from the old contract is missing, the council asked Neeson to put on paper what those things are so they can be addressed.
Neeson has yet to do that, asking that the city redline his proposal instead. He did offer to go through the more drastic changes proposed by the city for next year’s negotiations.
City Council members expressed frustration with Neeson — appearing before them in cargo shorts and a T-shirt — for his seeming unwillingness to compromise.
Councilman Robert Webster acknowledged that language had been added to the contract over the years to address issues, but noted that those items may not be relevant anymore.
Councilwoman Kristin Kelly said the union seemed “stuck” on the old contract and not flexible enough to begin anew.
Neeson stood his ground, saying that the union and the city were not far apart on the old contract and could have met halfway. But the city’s new contract isn’t halfway, it’s the city’s way, he said.
Kinskey closed by saying he feels there is a fair offer on the table that deserves a straight up-or-down vote from union membership. A contract is supposed to be approved by July 1.