Union representatives for East Naples firefighters were called this week to attend a contract negotiation session on Thursday.
They didn’t show up.
After months of unsuccessful collective bargaining, fire officials declared “financial urgency” on Monday in an effort to breakup the stalemate. That declaration could allow the fire district to impose salary and benefit cuts on firefighters without an agreement from the union after a 14-day period, according to John Hament, an East Naples fire district attorney.
In response, the Collier Professional Firefighters and Paramedics union questioned the legitimacy of that declaration and were no-shows at Thursday’s bargaining meeting, which would have been under the terms of financial urgency, or “impact” bargaining.
The union’s attorney, Jim Brantley, called the declaration “a ploy to bolster the district’s unwavering, hard-line, uncompromising positions” and demanded proof of financial urgency.
Fire officials report the district is facing a $3.2 million budget shortfall for the next fiscal year, and are $2.9 million short this year. However, the district does have about $3.8 million in reserves.
Both parties have acknowledged the need for cuts from firefighters to balance the fire district’s budget, but the nature and amount of the cuts have been heavily disputed by the parties.
Union president Chris Tobin said fire officials have been unwilling to work with the union, and the declaration of urgency is part of that trend.
“That fire district can learn to work with people and not be dictators and pirates,” he said Tuesday.
Fire Chief Keith Teague said the union’s proposed concessions are not enough.
If an agreement is not reached during a 14-day impact bargaining period, Hament said, East Naples fire commissioners could impose proposed cuts, which include a 24 percent to 27 percent pay cut, requiring firefighters to contribute to healthcare benefits and altering overtime pay policy.
Hament has urged the union to meet and negotiate “as soon as possible.”
Brantley signaled the union would not participate in additional bargaining without evidence to the district’s financial urgency.
However, if fire officials unilaterally makes cuts, Brantley claims “the district would be guilty of unfair labor practice.”
Tobin said the union would file a complaint against the district to block the measures and bring the parties back to the negotiation table.
Connect with Aaron Hale at /www.naplesnews.com/staff/aaron-hale