News - April 27, 2011

Fire board imposes terms on firefighters

by Sandy Brundage

The firefighters of the Menlo Park Fire Protection District will get $350 more per month for health and welfare benefits, and an additional $400 more per month for post-employment health benefits, but no salary increase, according to terms imposed on the union by the district board of directors April 19.

The board voted 4-1 to impose the offer. Director Peter Carpenter said he thought it was a good decision, but not a great outcome.

Director Jack Nelson cast the single dissenting vote.

"I've never been a fan of either imposing or forcing anything upon people. I think even after two and a half years of negotiations, both parties need to catch their breath and reassess their positions," Mr. Nelson said. "Both sides need to look at and reflect upon what isn't working, why isn't it working, and try to improve upon that."

Negotiations between the board and union first ground to a halt in 2009 after Local 2400 filed a grievance with the state's Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) alleging unfair labor practices that included refusing to bargain in good faith, and offering regressive terms that were less than previously agreed upon.

Talks broke down again in October 2010 after union representatives asked to meet with the district's board members individually. The board declined the request, saying in a response letter that such meetings violated state law.

The district sent a letter last November to union leadership saying it would double the amount put toward health benefits in hopes of coaxing the union back to the bargaining table after the firefighters rejected an offer of $750 per month towards their health plan.

Now the PERB case heads to court at the end of May.

John Wurdinger, vice president of the Menlo Park Firefighters Association, said the union has already amended its PERB complaint as a result of the imposed terms.

"Last night the fire board voted on a resolution that amounts to a $450 a month pay cut for some of our members, all the way up to a $350 a month pay increase for others," he said, adding that the union continues to wait for a judge's decision to settle the dispute.

Under the previous terms, Mr. Wurdinger explained earlier, a firefighter could choose to take the $750 home in cash, an option no longer available.


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