Labor Court to Settle GI Firefighter Dispute - KHGI-TV/KWNB-TV/KHGI-CD-Grand Island, Kearney, Hastings

Labor Court to Settle GI Firefighter Dispute

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The state's labor dispute court has been asked to settle a disagreement between firefighters and the City of Grand Island.

After a public safety study, the Grand Island Fire Department restructured some duties, creating the positions of Life Safety Inspector and Shift Commander.

They also did away with an assistant fire chief position. 

The question is not whether or not shift commanders can negotiate as part of a union.

"The city has no issue with these employees belonging to a union," City Attorney Bob Sivick said.

But the city attorney is concerned about them being part of the same union as those they manage.

The fire union doesn't believe it's a problem for them to members of the same union, and is asking the Commission of Industrial Relations to settle the matter. The CIR is a court-like state agency that handles labor disputes for public employees.

According to a statement from the city, city staff had preliminary discussions with the union attorney and union president Scott Kuehl, who serves as a fire captain.

However, the city says IAFF Local 647 decided to file with the CIR before those discussions reached a conclusion.

Fire Chief Cory Schmidt said, "City Administration supported the recommendations to restructure staffing to strengthen the department which I appreciate. I was hopeful Local 647's concerns involving the union representation status of the shift commander and life safety inspector position would be resolved through constructive dialogue. I'm sorry the dialogue was cut short as shown by the petition filed with the Commission of Industrial Regulations by Local 647."

The CIR is expected to clarify if the new positions should become part of the local fire union.

The union filed with the CIR on April 30. The city will now file a response, and move forward with filling the new positions.

City Administrator Mary Lou Brown said, "The City Administration respects all city employees and their right under Federal and State law to be represented by collective bargaining units.  The Administration is resolved to move forward and take whatever action is in the best interests of the City and its citizens. Once the Commission rules, the City will implement its directives.

It's not the first dispute between the fire union and city.

Last year, firefighters successfully sued the city when the fire chief position was left vacant longer than state law allows. 

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