Sapulpa and fire union contract talks stall

Posted at 5:20 PM, Apr 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-15 20:24:17-04

For more than a year, Sapulpa city leaders and representatives from the IAFF Local 194, Sapulpa's local fire union have been working through contract negotiations.

Recently they reached a stalemate and in early April the two parties brought in an arbitrator.  

The arbitrator is now reviewing the last best offer from both parties after the two failed to reach an agreement. The union is expecting an arbitrator's ruling by Thursday. 

As of Friday, Sapulpa employed 47 firefighters. Local union president Levi Coats said the offer presented by the city could eliminate seven firefighter positions. 

He fears that could lead to slower response times and other complications during emergencies.

"The way they wanted it changed our staff by seven, which in turn would close down a fire station," he said. "We didn't feel that was acceptable."

The proposed contract from the city shows, "During the term of this agreement, the City agrees to maintain a minimum number of 40 firefighters within the bargaining unit. Nothing in this provision shall in anyway limit the right of the city to hire or reduce personnel." 

In town at the Patriot Grill, 2 Works For You talked with several customers and employees. All of them said they would like to keep their firefighters staffed at the current level. 

Behind the counter at the grill, Leslie Perry said Sapulpa needs to keep its firefighters so they can respond to medical calls, fires and assist nearby communities. 

"I just don't see how there is enough people to cover everything," Leslie Perry said. "I mean they have to help Glenpool, they have to help Kiefer. They have to help all these surrounding towns."

Coats said the union made cuts in their contract offer to sick leave and vacation time, to reduce the department's budget. Coats believes the city's proposed contact includes cuts that go too far.

"Employees have been told that you could build and maintain your sick leave and you're at max, when you retired you would be bought back at 100 percent," Coats said.

Maximum sick leave hours under the current contract for firefighters is 1560 hours.

Currently a retiring firefighter with 1560 sick leave hours saved, is paid 100 percent of his current salary for those hours. Firefighters with less hours are paid for the hours, at a rate of 85 percent of their wage. 

Coats said it is an incentive for firefighters to work their scheduled shifts, and a system veteran firefighters have counted on during their careers. 

The city's proposed offer shows retiring firefighters would "be paid at the same percentage rate paid other employees of the City under the City Human Resources Manual." Coats quoted that percentage at 50 percent and the contract offer shows it would only be extended to firefighters with a minimum of 1560 hours. 

The union also reports the city's contract makes changes to vacation time that went beyond what IAFF Local 194 proposed, and greatly reduced vacation time for employees listed as 40 hour personnel.

If the arbitrator decides on behalf of the city, the city council could adopt their contract. If the arbitrator rules in favor of the union's contract, Coats said the council could decide to have voters weigh-in on the contract and he believes they would pursue that option.

"Which is going to roughly cost the city another $15,000," he said. 

Back at the Patriot Grill, Perry said she hopes the city can avoid spending taxpayers money by avoiding a vote. 

"I don't see why grown men can't get together and say, 'Hey this is what we need to do, lets come to a decisions so they don't have to spend all that money," Perry said.

David Widdoes, Sapulpa's city attorney, is representing the city in contract negotiations. When reached for comment his office told 2 Works For You city officials are unable to comment on active arbitration. Calls to Sapulpa's mayor and vice-mayor weren't returned.