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Firefighters' union files unfair labor practice complaint against CKF&R leaders
The International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2819 has filed an unfair labor practices complaint against Central Kitsap Fire & Rescue Chief Scott Weninger and CK Fire District Board Chairman Dave Fergus.
The complaint was filed last Thursday with the Washington State Public Employment Relations Commission. A spokesman for the office confirmed Tuesday that it had been received but the complaint had not yet been reviewed by the unfair labor practice manager.
The union, which is represented by Poulsbo attorney Michael Duchman, contends that the district's actions to reduce the minimum number of firefighters on duty at any given time was made without the consent of the union and hence, violated the collective bargaining provisions.
District officials said they could not comment on the complaint because of potential litigation.
In the complaint, Duchman said despite the union's request for information related to the issue and its request to meet and bargain any staffing reductions, Chief Weninger "unilaterally implemented the policy to periodically de-staff Engine 64 and Aid 64 (Chico Station 64) on Jan. 1."
The complaint further states: "A consequence of the periodic de-staffing Engine 64 is that fire engine response times have been increased substantially enough to cause a decrease in firefighter safety."
Also mentioned in the complaint is that the reduction in staff meant some members of the union were assigned to be roving, which is seen as a reduction in benefits.
"Even if it were true that the District had the right to unilaterally implement the periodic de-staffing of Engine 64 and Aid 64, which it did not, the district had still committed an unfair labor practice because against union objections, Weninger implemented the staffing reduction before bargaining over the effects that such decision had on mandatory subjects of bargaining," the complaint said.
The complaint also calls into question the decision by Weninger and the board to create and fund an IT position when that work has historically been done by a union member. The union opposed the new position due to proposed budget cuts that would decrease line firefighter staffing.
The complaint also states that Weninger has discriminated, retaliated and interfered with protected union activities performed by union vice president Ronny Smith. Actions taken by Weninger and other administrators to suspend Smith for his part in releasing information about two calls and possibly different outcomes to those calls had Station 64 been de-staffed on that day, are viewed by the union as retaliatory, the complaint states.
It also points out that another individual involved in the release of information was not suspended as was Smith. The complaint said that the normal course of notification through the proper chain of command wasn't followed in Smith's case and that he was not given proper notice that an investigation was underway.
"Weninger's allegation that Smith disseminated a HIPPA (Health Insurance Patient Privacy Act) protected report was simply a pretext to harass and intimidate Smith for engaging in protected activities," the complaint states.
Weninger began the investigation into the information that was posted by Smith based on his belief that the release of the information violated patient confidentiality and the federal HIPPA law, according to Weninger.
The union's complaint states that Weninger had his staff monitor news agencies and the Kitsap Fire Watch website and Facebook page for anything that could be traced to posts, or release of information, by Smith. It states that Fergus said that "management needs to be vigilant in monitoring both of these sites."
Additionally, the union said that when Weninger created a position of administrative lieutenant without bargaining the position with the union, but later was prohibited from implementing the position, Weninger intentionally disparaged Smith to the union members by saying that the union was to blame that no one was promoted to the position.
On Tuesday, Weninger said he could not comment on the pending complaint because it is viewed as potential litigation.
"Unfortunately the fire district had a breach in confidential HIPPA protected patient information," Weninger said in a written response. "As a HIPAA regulated agency, this is of great concern to me as fire chief. We are taking steps to keep the community safe and prevent this from occurring again in the future. Other details are not available due to pending litigation."
Fergus did not respond to emails asking for comments.
Matt Greer, a spokesman for the office of the Public Employment Relations Commission, said there is no set timeline for when the unfair labor practice manager will review the complaint. Once he does, he will make a preliminary ruling as to whether there is "a cause of action." If there is, the matter will go to a judicial hearing examiner for a hearing.
The manager can also dismiss the complaint at which time an appeal can be filed.
The union is seeking a remedy of lost pay and benefits to Smith and other union members who have lost overtime pay, for the district to cease and desist from refusing to bargain, a remedial order that be read at a meeting of fire district commissioners and published, and any other appropriate costs including attorney's fees.