So much up in the air’ as Edgerton firefighters return
Volunteers don’t know how work will be divided. Officials don’t know if volunteers will show up at the station. The paid employees don’t know what kind of terms they’re working under.
“There’s so much up in the air about how it will all work,” Assistant Fire Chief Ryan Beckwith said.
Even the firefighters’ schedule might change in the coming week, said Patrick Kilbane, representative for the International Association of Firefighters, the employees’ union.
For now, each man is scheduled for a 48-hour shift followed by four days off, Kilbane said.
Mark Backes starts today, followed by Arnie Lund on Tuesday and Ken Crandall on Thursday. Previously, the men had rotated 48-hour shifts and 24-hour ones.
The union is talking to the fire district about the schedule, but that’s not a major issue, Kilbane said. Looming larger are upcoming contract negotiations, which could start in early January, Kilbane said.
The men didn’t have a contract when they were fired in June 2003, even though they had joined a union in November 2002. In fact, the union and commission didn’t sit down once to negotiate a contract after the union submitted a proposal in February 2003, Kilbane said.
Backes, Crandall and Lund said joining the union was what got them fired, though the district said it did so for budgetary reasons.
Kilbane predicted wages will be the most contentious issue in the upcoming negotiations.
“It’s always about money when it gets down to it,” he said.
Meanwhile, the union’s attorney, John Kiel, has started negotiating back-pay issues with the fire district’s attorney, Richard Grant, Kilbane said.
Both attorneys have been making calculations of how much the men are owed, and Kilbane thinks they’re making progress, he said.
For now, Backes, the first firefighter to return today, believes he will have the same duties as before: cleaning the station, maintaining equipment, taking calls and performing other day-to-day tasks that come up between fire calls, he said.
Those are jobs the volunteers have been performing for the last four years. Now, the volunteers don’t know what they’re supposed to do, Beckwith said.
“We haven’t been told much of anything that’s been going on,” he said.
Many of the volunteers are angry the full-time employees are returning to the station, Beckwith said. He counts himself as one of them.
“The place is running fine for four years without them,” he said. “It’s kind of frustrating, knowing they’ll be coming back when the volunteers have been doing everything for free on their own time.”
Normally, volunteers show up at the fire station during their free time to take care of the station and equipment, but Beckwith doesn’t know if anyone will show up this week.
He wouldn’t be surprised if some volunteers resign, although he hadn’t heard of any resignations as of Thursday, he said.
Kilbane said most of the volunteers he’s spoken to are happy for the full-time employees.
“The ones that I’ve talked to are extremely happy that (the full-time employees) are coming back and are happy about the fact that these guys will be doing a lot of what (the commission has) been asking these volunteers to do since they left,” he said.
Chief John Gietzel said he, for one, supports the employees.
“I think basically things should go on as normal to the best of everyone’s ability,” he said. “Everybody should perform their jobs for the good of the community.”
The issue: Mark Backes, Ken Crandall and Arnie Lund were the only paid, full-time employees at the Edgerton Fire Protection District when they were fired in 2003. The district said they were let go for budgetary reasons, but the men said they were fired for joining a union.
The men and their union, the International Association of Firefighters, filed suit with the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission. WERC ruled the men reinstated with back pay. The ruling was upheld through several appeals, and the Wisconsin Supreme Court declined to hear the case Nov. 6.
On Nov. 14, the fire district commission voted to reinstate the men.
What’s new: The employees are scheduled to return to work this week. Backes will work today and Monday; Lund will work Tuesday and Wednesday, and Crandall will work Thursday and Friday.
What’s next: The commission plans to appoint a negotiator at its Thursday meeting to assist its attorney, Richard Grant, in dealing with the employees and their union. Attorneys for the district and the union are negotiating back pay, and contract negotiations might begin in January.