Echoing the police union’s recent criticism of city management, the Janesville firefighters union is not happy with how city officials handled the latest round of contract negotiations.
The two sides reached an agreement last week for a three-year deal that will last through 2021. But Janesville Fire Fighters Local 580 President Jason Daskam said the city has effectively severed a productive working relationship with the union.
The conflict goes back to spring, when the city eliminated firefighters’ ability to wash their personal vehicles at fire stations. The firefighters could use city water but needed to bring their own soap and towels, Daskam said.
The perk was included in the union’s personal amenities clause, something Daskam said dates back decades and has never been an issue before. That clause does not include a list of amenities.
The clause applies to benefits such as refrigerator and stove usage and having a supply of paper towels and toilet paper. Listing every benefit would put the fire department at risk of forgetting something, he said.
Deputy City Manager Ryan McCue said the city would like the union to provide a full list so both sides know what the clause protects.
The union filed a grievance with the city after losing the car wash perk. It eventually dropped the grievance because the city threatened a health insurance package with a 400 percent increase in out-of-pocket costs and a 260 percent increase in deductibles, Daskam said.
The health plan differed greatly from other city departments. During a meeting, Daskam recalled McCue saying that if certain groups wanted to be treated differently, then the city would do so.
McCue told The Gazette on Monday that personal car washes needed to end.
“We put an end to that practice, and the fire union was the only group of employees to not accept that decision,” he said. “They wanted to be treated special in that regard and differently. Therefore, they were presented a different health care package.”
The union believes the health plan proposal—which the city scrapped once the union dropped its grievance—was retaliatory. McCue denied that but admitted the issues were related.
Both sides also differ on what caused negotiations to quickly move to mediation, during which a third party handles contract talks.
Daskam said the city recommended mediation because the two sides had already reached an impasse during their first negotiation meeting. Such a tactic was “unfair, unacceptable, dirty negotiations” because it halted the ability for back-and-forth talks, he said.
McCue said the union walked away from the negotiating table and that the next step was mediation.
In recent years, the city successfully lobbied the state for $583,000 annually for five years, which helped hire three more firefighters and three more police officers. Such a move indicates the city cares about public safety, McCue said.
Daskam doesn’t see it that way. The city has poured resources into downtown revitalization—a worthwhile investment but one that comes at the expense of more important services, he said. The new hires are nice, but with call volume rising and staffing levels mostly stagnant, they aren’t enough, he said.
Daskam thinks the relationship between the union and city administration has soured past the point of recovery.
“I think we have a lot of mistrust right now with city management. I hope it can be fixed, but I just don’t know if it can be,” he said. “It’s too bad. I would love to see us move forward and get along, but trust is earned. And there’s not much trust there.”