Firefighters boycott Clearwater
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06/23/08 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Monday | Listen to this entire show:

This month the Florida Professional Firefighters association voted to boycott the City of Clearwater for what Clearwater firefighters are calling “unethical and illegal treatment.”

Firefighters from Clearwater have set up a website called Save Clearwater Fire to publicize their reasons for boycotting the city. John Lee is president of Clearwater Firefighters local 1158.

“Well, we’re just asking our union members statewide to boycott the city of Clearwater due to the unfair treatment and the unnecessary spending of the taxpayers’ dollars over many of the firings and the wrongdoings that the city has done against firefighters.”

The City of Clearwater settled six unfair labor practices with firefighters through the State of Florida’s Public Employees Relations Commission in 2006. According to the Save Clearwater Fire website, this has cost city taxpayers more than 100 thousand dollars. Lee said that taxpayers owe several hundred thousand dollars more because the city lost grievances that were filed by fire fighters.

“There is multiple terminations without just cause. Some of the firefighters were out for a year and a half, two years and they had to pay them all back pay wages and benefits and it cost the taxpayers a lot of money for the city to continue to do that without just cause – it’s just not good for the fire department. The other ones were unfair labor practices that they committed against the firefighters. I just think it’s a shame that they’re wasting the taxpayers’ dollars on this unnecessary fight.”

Twenty-six additional grievances are pending, according to Save Clearwater Fire. Lee said that one is a sexual harassment case pending against the city with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, but because it is ongoing he cannot provide details.

"There is an EEOC case that is pending. It was turned in as sexual harassment and discrimination and it is in the workings right now.”

Lee said that the same resolution to boycott Clearwater that was passed by the Florida Professional Firefighters “will be presented at the International convention in [Las] Vegas in August.” Save Clearwater Fire is asking firefighters visiting Florida “to avoid the Clearwater area as a vacation destination.” The firefighters have been negotiating a new contract with Clearwater since their contract expired last October, but have been unable to reach a deal. The city declared an impasse, according to their Public Communications Director Doug Matthews, who says that firefighters are using the boycott as leverage.

“Well, it’s a typical union negotiations tactic. …”

WMNF asked Matthews to respond to the claims by the firefighters that decisions by the city have cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in grievances.

“What they want to do is they want to move the ball and bring up things that are several years old. …”

Because of the impasse, instead of a three-year contract, an arbitrator will produce a one-year deal. One point of contention is that the city is offering the firefighters a zero percent raise. “Well, for the one-year deal, that is correct. …”

But Clearwater Firefighter’s union president John Lee said that the boycott is not about ongoing negotiations with the city.

“We did get step increases, but this isn’t really about the negotiations, the negotiations kind of work themselves out. We’ve been through it multiple years going. We do have a step plan along with some of the other bargaining units in the City of Clearwater. And it’s really not about negotiation.”

Save Clearwater Fire

City of Clearwater

Florida Professional Firefighters

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission -- EEOC

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