Kettering’s negotiations with firefighters union must continue after city rejection of findings

The city of Kettering and its fire department union will go to arbitration to settle on a new contact for the fire captains unit after the city rejected recommendations for contract terms made by an outside party.

The arbitration will continue efforts to settle on a new contact that began last November and included an agreement between both sides that was voted down by the union membership.

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City Manager Mark Schwieterman said that the city and the Kettering Professional firefighters IAFF Local 2150 have engaged in collective bargaining negotiations regarding the captains unit starting in November 2017, and mediation sessions were held in January and February of this year.

“We’ve been in union contract negotiations for our next three-year agreement,” Schwieterman said. “The previous three-year agreement ended at the end of 2017. The result of the fact-finding was received late last week.”

A tentative agreement had been reached on all issues, including wages, overtime, drug testing and reprimands processes but the union membership rejected the agreement, so the parties sought recommendations from an outside fact-finder, according to Thomas Nowel, who was selected to go over the issues by the State Employment Relations Board.

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Nowel noted in his fact-finding report that there are “14 captains in the bargaining unit. Prior to 2014, captains were not unionized. The recently expired collective bargaining agreement was the first between the union, representing fire captains, and the City of Kettering.”

Attorney Stephen S. Lazarus, who is representing the union, said Nowel’s report was a “mixed bag of results for both parties.”

“We were proposing language on insurance that the fact-finder sided with the city and language on drug testing that he sided with the city as well,” Lazarus said. “He sided with us when the city wanted to make changes in overtime and it was a split-decision on wages. I think it was a well-balanced report.”

Lazarus said that the process permits either party to reject the fact-finder’s decision and then enter into conciliation with an arbitrator which results in binding arbitration.

“Now, we must get a list of arbitrators and select one and then get a date,” he said. “This part of the of the process could take at least a couple of months before it gets started. What the state law says that in this period while negotiations are taking place the current terms and conditions of the last existing contract continue to be enforced.”

Wages and overtime have been notable issues in the negotiations. The union proposed three across the board wage increases which included: 3 percent effective (retroactive) Jan. 1, 2018, 3 percent effective Dec/ 30, 2018 and and 3 percent effective December 29, 2019.

The city countered with proposals of three 2 percent across-the-board wage increases.

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Kettering reduced its overtime costs for firefighters after hiring new firefighters last year in an effort to get costs under control, according to the Dayton Daily News I-Team Payroll Project searchable database of public employees.

The city’s 2017 payroll included 55 police department employees and 41 fire department employees who made more than $100,000 last year. This is a reduction in both categories from 2016. The majority of the city’s highest-paid employees still worked in the fire department, however.

Overtime is down more than 6 percent citywide from 2016 to 2017 including in both the police and fire departments, and issue the I-Team has reported on for several years.

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