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Burning questions

Burning questions

Texas side, firefighters continue negotiating

August 18th, 2018 by Karl Richter in Texarkana News

No new agreements are in place after a second consecutive day of contract negotiations between Texarkana, Texas, and the local firefighters union.

The negotiation teams raised and then tabled several concerns during morning and afternoon sessions Friday at City Hall, delaying resolution of their differences until a final pair of meetings next week.

A pay raise proposed by the union, International Association of Fire Fighters Local 367, did not come up Friday. Both parties agreed that the wage issue and an increase in staffing levels requested by the union would top the agenda when talks reconvene Wednesday and Thursday.

The city and union are aiming to complete an agreement by Aug. 24 so that it can be included in the city's Fiscal Year 2019 budget, which the City Council is expected to vote on Sept. 10.

Much of the discussion Friday concerned disagreements on discipline policies, including under what circumstances a firefighter can be placed on paid administrative leave and made to work a 40-hour per week schedule.

Normally, firefighters work 24-hour shifts followed by 48 hours off. But if they are under investigation for a disciplinary matter they can be placed on a Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule. During those times they are not allowed to work for the Fire Department but are expected to be available for interviews by investigators.

Because being put on a 40-hour schedule can be disruptive for firefighters, many of whom work part-time jobs during their 48-hour off times, the union argues that it should only happen to those accused of Class A misdemeanors or felonies. They cited examples of firefighters accused of less serious violations kept on administrative leave—and therefore unable to work their part-time jobs—for months as department investigations continued.

Bettye Lynn, attorney for the city, countered that investigators typically work Monday through Friday, so any firefighter under investigation must be available on the same schedule.

Another disagreement concerns the city's proposed no-strike clause, which includes a provision stating that the union may not "support or assist" any employee who participates in a strike or other form of work stoppage, all of which are illegal for Texas police officers and firefighters.

The union's concern is that a manager with ill intent could deem a legitimate absence such as sick leave as a firefighter striking, thus stripping them of union representation before it can be determined whether an actual work stoppage took place.

Meetings expected to be the final two of the negotiations are slated for 1:30 p.m. Aug. 22 and 8:30 a.m. Aug. 23. Both are open to the public.

On Twitter: @RealKarlRichter

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