The union representing Fort Worth’s firefighters is suing the city to force arbitration over a new staffing policy it says violates the department’s collective bargaining agreement.
In late April, Chief Jim Davis announced a staffing directive to cut down on overtime hours caused by firefighters taking leave last minute. Under the new policy, the department staffs fire companies with three firefighters for the first five hours of the shift and pays for a replacement for the remaining 19 hours.
The policy was contested by IAFF 440, the union representing Fort Worth firefighters, which submitted a grievance to Davis. That grievance was denied, and the union’s president, Michael Glynn, intended to take the matter to arbitration, even as he continued to negotiate with the city on a new collective bargaining agreement for the next several years.
“This is not an ideal time for us to be going to arbitration over payroll issues or going to arbitration over staffing, but we don’t have any choice but to defend the contract,” Glynn said.
City administrators say a right for arbitration doesn’t exist in this instance. Because the city believes Davis’ staffing directive adheres to current bargaining language, assistant city manager Valerie Washington said, the union’s grievance effectively asks for a change to the bargaining agreement.
“We believe they are asking an arbitrator to do things that are beyond their limitation,” Washington said.
Whether the issue goes before a neutral arbiter is now in the hands of the 48th District Court. The union filed a petition May 31 requesting that the city of Fort Worth be made to participate in arbitration. The case is not likely to begin for several weeks, meaning the staffing policy will continue in the interim.
“I think it’s a delay tactic to save money” by not paying for overtime, Glynn said.
If IAFF 440 wins its suit against the city, the union also wants Fort Worth to pay for attorney fees and legal costs associated with the suit.
Union wins right for firefighters to negotiate payback plans
A different arbitration decision between the city and IAFF 440 was delivered in the union’s favor last week.
After an ongoing saga of overpayments to Fort Worth firefighters since 2014 culminated in the city establishing payment plans to recoup the money, union members filed a grievance arguing firefighters have a right to individually negotiate their payment plans.
Unable to reach an agreement between themselves, both parties entered into arbitration, where they made their cases before a neutral arbitrator on Feb. 28 and March 1. The arbiter ruled in favor of the union May 23.
The decision compels the city to allow a firefighter four weeks to negotiate an individual payment plan, and the firefighter must be given a notice that includes payroll information, any alleged overpayments and a statement informing firefighters they can contact the city for additional information, documents and explanations.
The arbiter did not compel the city to change its payroll system, which IAFF 440 has criticized as inefficient and prone to errors.
Last year, in response to the concerns, the city commissioned an outside review of the payroll system, which flagged five concerns: two related to system configuration, two related to business processes and one related to naming conventions. It created a task force to address those concerns and identify potential payroll solutions.
Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or via Twitter.
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