Hall Gets Flamed by Fire Department
A letter to Anchorage Assembly Chair Ernie Hall, from Tom Wescott, President of the Alaska Professional Firefighters about Ordinance 37, which is scheduled to be voted on by the Assembly on Tuesday, March 26. Mr. Hall is up for re-election on Tuesday, April 2.
March 25, 2013
I am writing you to express my disgust in the role you have played in AO-37. As someone who assured our local in a PAC interview I was present at that you supported binding arbitration, I find it hard to understand how you could support something this far from your stated position. At a minimum I feel you owe an explanation for supporting such a radical departure from your stated position. I invite you to attend the next IAFF meeting and explain why you have so drastically changed your opinion.
Irrespective of the merits of this proposed ordinance, the process has been deeply flawed and anyone supporting this ordinance is just giving the green light for this type of action in the future. I will never know if you and Mrs. Johnston had a hand in dropping this right on the deadline for declaring candidacy for municipal elections. I also will never know if placing Mrs. Frasca on the body when you knew she was running for the position (possible advantage) was part of the strategy for passing AO-37. I am also left to wonder why the contract for Mr. Owens came in at just under the amount that requires public notification. Was it to hide this from the public, workers and most of the Assembly? Why did two co-sponsors of this ordinance have no idea that it allowed EMS to be privatized? Clearly this was the intent, to privatize EMS. I know this because in the past Mr. Birch and Mayor Sullivan have advocated for a system that enriches their friends, rather than delivers a quality service to the citizens. Did you not even read the ordinance you co-sponsored or did you just take the Mayor’s word? Why were no department heads consulted as to how they thought this would affect their departments and the delivery of services? My Chief and many of the non rep chiefs have openly spoken against this ordinance. The Chief also mentioned that not one Assembly member had asked his opinion on how this would affect the Fire Department. With all of this, I cannot help but feel that 6 of you on the assembly committed to passing this before it saw the light of day, and the 6 of you have little regard or little care what the Mayor puts in the final version.
I just ask you to imagine this process associated with title 21, a new tax or any other topic. There would be outrage and it would be justified, just as the outrage of many over AO-37 is justified. You have not only allowed this process to unfold in this manner you have helped it along.
At the end of the day this is about the administration and their contempt for public employees. Many involved in 8th floor discussions have stated, off the record, the existence of open contempt held by this Mayor’s executive staff. Mr. Earnhart expressed it in the work session when he stated performance pay was about not being drunk at work, and crashing trucks, or something to that effect. He just forgot his audience. As I am sure you are well aware, banter like that is commonplace among executives on the 8th floor. Twice I have attended the national Fire Academy to help earn my performance pay. I was gone from my family for 8 days, attended class for 6, was the only one not in paid status and had to pay back three 24 hour shifts upon my return. I then went on to share what I had learned with the crews I work with. Fire Fighters are insulted but not surprised by comments like that to come from this Mayor’s administration and for many on the assembly to accept them without challenge.
If this ordinance was truly about money and the taxpayers you would not have silenced unions on issues related to safety staffing, testing, station assignments. These all are management rights now. The Mayor can say in his press releases that we can still bargain for these items, but that is dishonest. It is a management right and no longer a mandatory subject of bargaining. Gone is our ability to bargain for fair testing that promotes the most qualified. Gone is our ability to protect our paramedics from working busy medic rigs without a change to an engine company. The reason this language was agreed to was because management abused our paramedics in the past. They agreed to the language to force themselves to do the right thing. Gone is our ability to negotiate for minimum staffing levels on rigs. Gone is our ability to negotiate for proper safety gear. If you don’t believe this to be true, please ask Mr. Earnhart if these items are MANDATORY SUBJECTS OF BARGAINING? If they are not, then the administration is under no obligation to discuss them. I am sure you are well aware that this is the intent of the ordinance you are sponsoring. Those supporters on the Assembly should stop hiding behind the deceptive explanations the Mayor provides regarding this ordinance.
What many on the assembly fail to understand is that 95% of the collective bargaining agreement remains the same from negotiation to negotiation. They are long held practices that both sides have agreed upon as best practices. It assures when City Hall calls down to the Fire Chief and tells him to cut money that he does not try and save by placing fire fighters in unsafe positions, or skimping on safety gear. He must find a different way. It has worked for many administrations. It prevents a good old boys club for promotions or station assignments. Something that did exist in the past.. It ensures that when a fire fighter is called in to work an additional shift they will be compensated at time and a half. All of these positive characteristics will be gone under your ordinance.
Let us not forget that a collective bargaining agreement is just that, an agreement reached between the administration and a labor organization. Once agreed upon, it must be ratified by the union membership and them approved by the assembly. To say there is a need to throw out the process because you do not like the contracts negotiated by a former mayor and approved by a former assembly is misguided. The process in place has been at times very tough on labor.(12 years of Fink and Mystrom). As I have stated before there is nothing that prevents very tough negotiating on the part of management in the current ordinance. Any system should be designed to ensure both sides come to the table with reasonable positions. Tipping the scale heavily in favor of one side as you have done will not do that.
Many have talked about the growth of our budget over the last 10 years. Some have attributed it all to the cost of labor. I have been on the department since 2000. I have seen a department add station 14 and station 15, Truck 11 and Truck 12, Battalion 3, Safety 1, Medic 4 and Medic 7 and Medic 9 went from half time to full time. All of these items were placed in front of the voters for their approval.
Retirement costs have contributed to the growth. In 2000 most members were in the Police and Fire Retirement System and because it was overfunded the employer made no contribution toward their retirement. We are now faced with 22% contributions on everyone because politicians elected to close that system down. I know the city is making payments now to PFRS but let us not forget they took out around 50 million dollars and made no contributions on their employees for over 15 years. Labor has played a role but it is wrong to indicate that it is the entire story.
Mr. Hall, you have watched this Mayor operate for the last 4 years. You have watched him proclaim fiscal crisis after fiscal crisis (except his re-election year). You watched him hire Mark Hall as Fire Chief. A very nice man, but I don’t think anyone would argue the most qualified candidate to lead the FD. You watched us go 4 years without hiring, which spiked overtime. We then put forth a hiring process on the cheap, because City Hall mandated it, and eliminated some of the best qualified candidates. In short we did not get the best people in the door because the 8th floor micromanaged the process and our leaders did not stand up for the public. How is that best for the community?
You are well aware that unions put forth ideas to save the city dollars and were turned down by this administration each time. You even heard the Mayor acknowledge that Rod Harris had offered a concession with no strings, and he turned it down this year. Do you realize what kind of leadership that took for Rod to do that? This administration has taken zero steps toward curbing the high cost of health insurance. Our local has attempted to work on this problem but little can be accomplished if labor and management our not on the same page.
You stand ready to silence the workers of the city with this ordinance because you say there is a problem, yet over the last 4 years the administration has made no effort to fix it. You will reward the mayor who has refused to engage in the collective bargaining process by rewriting the rules so heavily in favor of management that there is no real collective bargaining process.
At the end of the day I am certain this ordinance will save the city money, but it will be at the expense of the quality and level of service delivered to the community. I challenge you to find me a city our size that negotiates in the manner you are advocating for, and at the same time delivers quality services to the citizens. Scott Walker exempted Pubic Safety because he understood staffing and safety were important enough to negotiate. Idaho is a RTW state that realizes public safety should have collective bargaining. Chris Christie has said there is no reason to eliminate Collective Bargaining, management should just do their job and be tough. This is a sentiment Dan Coffey has echoed on several meetings I have had with him over the years.
It is not too late for you to table this and sit down and write a good labor ordinance. The Mayor does not create policy without the OK of the Assembly. As Chairman, you lead the Assembly. It is time to show some leadership and scrap this bad ordinance. At that point you can collect the assembly’s thoughts on this issue and craft them into a good working labor ordinance that balances the needs of the taxpayers, the citizens and workers. AO-37 in no way balances those needs.
Thomas A. Wescott
President Alaska Professional Fire Fighters