Little Progress in the IAFF Contract

The “negotiations” between Palm Beach County and the International Association of Fire Fighters, local 2928 have now been in progress for three months. With the exception of some minor cleanup in the text, there has been no agreement on anything. The major issues of starting salary (the county wants a 22% reduction) or employee contributions toward health insurance (3%) have not even been broached in the public meetings.

Seemingly minor issues, such as posting the seniority list on the intranet rather than on bulletin boards give rise to heated discussion, complete with implausible hypotheticals and the predictions of dire consequences. The county proposal to allow internal raters on promotional boards is treated by the union as if it was a wholesale rejection of a merit system for one of abject cronyism.

Yet with the exception of one heated exchange between attorneys over the “impasse” of qualifying overtime on a weekly rather than daily basis, the discussions have been cordial. The only problem is that they have accomplished absolutely nothing.

TAB volunteers have sat through these meetings, joined at various times by members of the press and a representative of the county Inspector General’s office. While the meetings have been about as exciting as watching paint dry, the way they have been conducted has been instructive in how public sector unions maintain their control over the functions of government.

Why this lack of progress?

The county, for their part, have proceeded in a workmanlike manner. Led by Attorney Robert L. Norton and Chief Steve Jerauld, their 6 member team has put their cards on the table in the form of detailed modifications to the existing contract document and walked through it in painstaking detail for the union representatives. They showed up for the meetings on time, and have been reasonable in the representation of their position. Of course their negotiating position is modest – other than the reduction in starting salary that affects nobody currently represented by the IAFF, there is no attempt to pare down the salaries and luxurious benefits enjoyed by current employees. The county team appears to be serious about completing the negotiations in a timely manner, and have tried multiple times to get additional meetings scheduled to expedite the process.

The union on the other hand, seems content to let the talks drift along. Led by Attorney Matthew J. Mierzwa, they have avoided agreeing to anything, even minor changes in wording. They showed up an hour late for the August session, a public meeting that had been on the county web calendar for quite a while, claiming “miscommunication”. (The county team was there on time, as were the observers). In the first meeting, halfway through the first “caucus”, they abruptly terminated the discussion and did not return until the next month’s meeting. One of their team of nine negotiators made the incredible statement that he had not read major sections of the county proposal because “he knew he wouldn’t agree with it”.

It appears to an outside observer that the county wants to conclude a new contract and the IAFF does not. Why would that be?

The contract expires at the end of September. The new county proposal contains new hire salary reductions, benefit cost sharing, and other things that disadvantage the union. The union version omits the reductions but does agree to forgo across the board salary increases in the new contract, subject to the condition: “Should the assessed value of properties in Palm Beach County or total revenues for Fire Rescue increase during the term of this agreement, the Union may reopen this Article for further negotiations.

Maybe they want to run out the clock the way Congress does on major legislation. Perhaps they feel an improving economy will strengthen their hand. It is hard to say.

Although it is early to speculate, what if no agreement were to be reached? In that case, resolution would follow the rules of Florida Statutes Chapter 407.403 – “Resolution of Impasse” which involves mediation by a special magistrate. You may recall that this was a step in the resolution of the Fire/Rescue contract in the Town of Palm Beach. Ultimately it fell to the city council to impose what was a significant setback to the IAFF in that town. In this case, it would fall to the County Commission to impose a settlement.

The process continues in a planned all-day session on September 14, unless the proposal for four additional meetings requested by Mr. Norton is accepted. It should be pointed out that all participants in these discussions (6 for the county and 9 for the union) are being paid by the taxpayers. The attorneys of course are generating billable hours.


2 Responses to “Little Progress in the IAFF Contract”
  1. D D says:

    I don’t think anyone is surprised that no action has been taken during these negotiations, they have an entitled attitude and our commissioners are scared and lame( Kelley days !! Really !) . A job with F/R should not be like winning the employment lotto, they need to share the pain and not look for more. I’m in favor of voiding the contract and putting the F/R service out to bid ( show some guts!). With wind insurance going up and now our property taxes there has to be an end. Make them accountable for their cost and their pay should be in line with the private sector and here is an idea, let the taxpayers vote on their contract ! I will vote against any commissioner who approves of any increase in taxes to cover their cost.


  2. jupiter12 says:

    Wake up County Commisioners in Palm Beach County.
    Martin fire-rescue workers forgo raises in
    contract approved by County Commission
    By George Andreassi
    Tuesday, August 23, 2011
    STUART — Martin County’s 300 fire-rescue workers will not receive raises in the next
    three years under a contract approved Tuesday by a divided County Commission.
    “I think that we should be proud we were able to come to an agreement,” said County
    Administrator Taryn Kryzda. “Our relationship with the union is very important.”
    In addition to forgoing merit and cost-of-living raises, the members of the fire-rescue
    workers union agreed to givebacks expected to be worth more than $460,000 in 2012,
    Kryzda said.
    Fire-rescue workers who retire after Oct. 1 will only receive health care insurance for
    themselves, not their immediate families as currently provided, Kryzda said.
    That giveback will save the county $6,000 per year per retiree and may prompt several
    of the seniormost fire rescue workers to consider retiring, Kryzda said.
    The new contract also reduces payouts for unused sick leave and vacation time for any
    fire-rescue workers hired after Oct. 1, county records show. In addition, the new pact
    reduces the annual uniform allowance, holiday pay and education reimbursement,
    among other givebacks.
    However, the contract could be reopened for negotiations for raises if property values
    or property tax revenues increase, Kryzda said. A 1 percent raise would cost the
    county about $260,000 per year.
    Commissioners Ed Ciampi, Doug Smith and Patrick Hayes praised the fire-rescue
    workers union for giving up raises and many perks.
    “The union had agreed to suspend any raises,” Ciampi said. “I think that is one of the
    most compelling givebacks for the union. They understood the situation that we’re in.”
    Commissioner Doug Smith praised Kryzda for reaching an agreement with the firerescue
    union without the assistance of a professional negotiator, as recommended by
    the Martin County Taxpayers Association.
    “I think we saved the county some money by not going outside,” Smith said.
    Martin fire-rescue workers forgo raises in contract approved by County Commission : TC… Page 1 of 3
    http://www.tcpalm.com/news/2011/aug/23/martin-fire-rescue-workers-forgo-raises-in-by/?… 8/26/2011
    Smith also praised fire-rescue workers union for giving up or reducing contracted
    raises in the four years since the economic downturn and state property tax reforms
    reduced county revenues.
    Hayes estimated the overall value of the givebacks in the last two contracts at about
    $10 million.
    “I think that’s quite extraordinary and a very aggressive response to the fact that our
    revenues have been declining dramatically,” Hayes said.
    But Commissioner Sarah Heard, who also called for the bargaining to be handled by a
    professional negotiator, said she voted against the fire rescue union’s contract because
    it still contains a variety of perks not enjoyed by other county workers.
    “It still includes standby time, callback pay, special-events pay, team pay, promotions,
    vacation compensation, sick compensation, career performance incentive program,
    education pay, shift pay and Kelly pay that none of our other county employees are
    anywhere near entitled to,” Heard said.
    Commissioner Ed Fielding, a political ally of Heard’s, did not say why he voted against
    the contract.
    In a related development, Teamsters Local 769, which represents more than 200
    county clerical and blue-collar workers, has ratified a three-year contract with no raises
    in 2012, Kryzda said. Any raises in the next two years are up for negotiation.How they
    The Martin County Commission voted 3-2 to approve a three-year contract with the the
    fire rescue workers union, Local 2959 of the International Association of Firefighters,
    that includes no raises and dozens of givebacks.
    Ed Ciampi: Yes
    Ed Fielding: No
    Patrick Hayes: Yes
    Sarah Heard: No
    Doug Smith: YesMartin County fire-rescue workers union
    300 members
    9 battalion chiefs
    59 lieutenants

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