Fire Union files “Prohibited Practices” Complaint

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By Carol A. Clark

Los Alamos County and the Los Alamos Fire Association Local #3279  have been in collective bargaining since January.

On April 6, the county declared negotiations were at an impasse and without an agreement with the union, county council approved a 3 percent pay increase for firefighters on April 7.

While five councilors voted in favor of the pay hike, Nona Bowman was absent,  Councilor Robert Gibson voted against the pay hike.

“I think in the absence of a collective bargaining agreement, it’s inappropriate for us to be making these changes,” Gibson said at the April 7 meeting.

The fire association complaint, filed with the county Labor Management Relations Board on Wednesday, calls the motion a violation of the county’s labor ordinance.

“This violates the county’s own labor ordinance – it’s just clear you can’t do that and we just can’t abide by it,” said S. Barry Paisner,  the fire union’s attorney in an interview Thursday.

“We just believe it’s illegal. The county may say it’s for the benefit of the firefighters but it’s the union’s position that it’s just another ploy in the negotiations that have been going on since January.”

Council Chair Michael Wheeler said this morning that he is prevented from commenting on the complaint because of the ongoing labor negotiations between the fire union and the county.

County Attorney Mary McInerny spoke briefly about the complaint during an interview this morning.

“We don’t agree that there’s a basis for finding a ‘Prohibited Practice’,” McInerny said. “We will be filing a formal response and there will be a hearing by the Los Alamos County Labor Management Relations Board.”

The county’s response to the union’s complaint is due by May 6.

County Administrator Max Baker addressed council April 7 about the firefighter contract situation.

“Although the collective bargaining process between the county and the Firefighters Association Union Local #3279 is continuing; in light of the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration’s refusal to approve any local government’s budget that may contain any retroactive pay increases or bonuses,” Baker said. “We feel it’s necessary and the right action to ask council to grant a 3 percent increase to employees under the Step Plan and the collective bargaining agreement.”

Councilor Vincent Chiravalle moved to approve the increase at the meeting.

“Basically I think there are two reasons for doing this,” he said. “Number one, we have intended in our budget to provide a 3 percent increase and I think we ought to go forward with doing that. And number two, I think it’s no longer legally possible to give retroactive compensation and so that’s why I think we need to afford this 3 percent increase at the present time.”

The Collective Bargaining Agreement ended March 31 and the parties agreed to extend the contract to April 6.

Local #3279 represents all but two non-probationary Los Alamos firefighters.

Contact Carol A. Clark at lanews@lamonitor.com or (505) 662-4185 ext. 25. www.newsextras.wordpress.com. ">Read her blog at www.newsextras.wordpress.com.