Mehlville Local 1889 members seek to join Local 2665

Mehlville Local 1889 formed back in ’69 with 41 members.

By MIKE ANTHONY

Members of Mehlville Fire Protection District Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters are seeking approval to join IAFF Local 2665.

Professional Fire Fighters of Eastern Missouri Local 2665 members are scheduled to vote next week on whether to approve the request by Local 1889.

Floor votes are scheduled Monday, Sept. 12, and Thursday, Sept. 15, according to Kurt Becker, a vice president with Local 2665.

Local 1889 President Nick Fahs was unavailable for comment before press time, but Becker told the Call that the membership of Local 1889 had voted in favor of joining Local 2665.

The leadership of Local 1889 has been at odds with the Mehlville Fire Protection District’s Board of Directors since the election of Aaron Hilmer and Bonnie Stegman in April 2005.

Hilmer, who has served as board chairman since 2005, and Stegman, who has served as board treasurer since 2005, campaigned on a reform platform, vowing to eliminate fiscal waste while improving services. A third reform candidate, board Secretary Ed Ryan, was elected in 2007.

Hilmer was elected to a second six-year term in April, narrowly defeating Mike Klund. Local 1889 contributed a total of $78,502.24 to two committees supporting Klund’s candidacy.

Shortly after Hilmer and Stegman took office in 2005, Local 1889 filed a lawsuit that sought to prohibit the Board of Directors from implementing a disability-benefit contract with Standard Insurance and eliminating disability benefits from the district’s pension plan.

In early 2006, a county circuit court judge granted the board’s motion for summary judgment, dissolving a preliminary injunction and dismissing Local 1889’s suit. Local 1889 appealed the ruling, and a three-judge panel of the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals in January 2007 issued an order affirming the dismissal.

The state Supreme Court in May 2007 declined to hear the lawsuit filed by union employees against the board.

In March 2006, Local 1889 filed a lawsuit challenging the Board of Directors’ decision to change the district’s pension plan from a defined-benefit plan to a defined-contribution plan. That lawsuit was settled in December 2008, two weeks after the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed an August 2007 ruling dismissing the suit.

Formed in 1969 with 41 members, Local 1889’s membership today totals roughly 120 Mehlville firefighters and paramedics.

Local 2665’s membership totals roughly 2,000 firefighters, paramedics, dispatchers and support personnel.

Asked why the membership of Local 1889 wants to join Local 2665, Becker said, “… One of the reasons that Local 2665 has been successful is because we’re a regional organization. We don’t just represent fire departments or fire protection districts. We don’t just represent fire service agencies or EMS agencies or fire emergency dispatchers. We pull together the entire conglomeration of first responders, save law enforcement officers, under our umbrella. And we are not just a specifically regional entity.

“Our influence extends over eight counties in eastern Missouri and I think one of the reasons that we have been effective in the past is because we are able to provide in-the-trenches-level support to organizations while at the same time having the ability to take a 30,000-foot view of things that are going on,” he continued.

“So I believe that the members of the Mehlville organization weighed all of the pros and cons of maintaining their autonomy and becoming amalgamated within our organization, and have made the decision that if they’re a good fit, that they would prefer to be part of Local 2665.”

Becker declined to speculate on the outcome of next week’s votes, but said, “… I will tell you that the Executive Board of Local 2665 is supportive of incorporating Local 1889 into our organization.”

The Local 2665 vice president also said, “… I think the reality is that Local 2665 is an entity that is uniquely positioned to serve the members of our union and also very effectively represent the taxpayers that support the agencies, whether they’re fire departments or fire districts, that our members belong to.

“No organization is perfect. However, we have a very progressive, very aggressive leadership group currently in place that is very keen on making sure that the people that are paying the bill, the taxpayers, get exactly what they’re paying for and that our members get the representation that they deserve. And because we represent over 70 agencies, I think we’ve got the wisdom to make some important decisions when the chips are down.”