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Firefighters reinstated: District offers to put men back to work

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Stacy Vogel
November 15, 2007
— Former Edgerton firefighter Arnie Lund said he’d start working for the district again in a heartbeat, but he doesn’t believe the district’s offer to reinstate him is serious, he said.

“They’re up to something,” he said. “It’s a ploy, in my opinion.”


Ploy or not, the three employees fired by the Edgerton Fire Protection District can have their jobs back if they want them, according to a vote taken by the district commission Wednesday.


The district voted after a closed session to send letters to Mark Backes, Ken Crandall and Lund offering to reinstate them Dec. 2.


The letters will include a work schedule with hours and terms similar to what the men had before they were fired in 2003, said Richard Grant, attorney for the district.


“We’re doing what the order said,” Grant said.


The order came in 2004 from the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission. The fired employees had filed an unfair labor practices complaint with the commission, claiming they were fired for joining a union.


WERC ruled the firings illegal and ordered the men reinstated with back pay and benefits. The ruling has been upheld in a series of appeals.


On Nov. 6, the Wisconsin Supreme Court declined to hear the district’s latest appeal of the decision, bringing the court case to an end.


The offer to reinstate the men represents a reversal from the district’s previous actions. In August, the commission directed Grant to begin negotiations with the employees “bearing in mind that the board feels that the best interests of the community will be served by an all- volunteer fire department.”


The district is still willing to consider a buyout of the men’s jobs, Grant said.


“We’ve already made overtures in that regard,” he said.


The commission Wednesday tabled until its Dec. 6 meeting a motion to appoint a negotiator to assist Grant.


Negotiations could include back pay, a union contract or a buyout for the firefighters, Grant said.


The letter to the employees will not include terms for back pay because the district is waiting for information from the men, Grant said. The WERC ruling allowed the district to subtract from the back pay any wages the men earned after 2003 that they wouldn’t have earned while working for the fire district.


“We can’t figure out what the back pay is until we know the offsets,” Grant said.


Lund said he’d rather settle the back pay issue before returning to work for the district.


“Hopefully they’ll come to the table and start negotiating what they still owe us,” he said. “I’ve got four years of wages and hardships and benefits, plus 12 percent interest.”


Patrick Kilbane, a representative for the International Association of Firefighters, said he is happy about the vote.


“All they’re doing is complying with the order they were given four years ago,” he said. “I don’t think they had much choice.”


He said the firefighters haven’t been able to send an offer of back pay because a contract was never negotiated.


“They have no idea what should have been until that’s done,” Kilbane said. “We’ve been back and forth on this. We have no idea, nor do they, how to calculate the back pay because we never negotiated a contract.


“This is going to be a long process,” Kilbane predicted. “I’m anxious to get back to the negotiating table.”


Backes and Crandall both want their jobs back, Kilbane said.


—Reporter Marcia Nelesen contributed to this story


STORYLINE

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 fired 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.


On Nov. 6, the Wisconsin Supreme Court declined to hear the district’s latest appeal of the case.


What’s new: The district commission voted Wednesday to reinstate the men effective Dec. 2.


What’s next: At its Dec. 6 meeting, the commission plans to appoint a negotiator to assist its attorney, Richard Grant, in dealing with the employees and their union. Negotiations could include back pay, a union contract or a buyout, Grant said.



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