MFPD petitions state to move 24 captains into management

Fahs says union will prevail; Hilmer says vote a no-brainer.

By MIKE ANTHONY

The Mehlville Fire Protection District last week filed a petition with the State Board of Mediation to move captains from the bargaining unit represented by Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters into management.

The Board of Directors voted unanimously April 1 to have the district’s legal counsel, Mathew Hoffman, file the petition.

On March 25, Chief Tim White proposed improving the district’s chain-of-command structure by moving captains from the bargaining unit represented by Local 1889 into management.

Saying his proposal is “another step of progress as far as the organizational structure,” White asked the board March 25 to make the necessary changes to move the district’s captains “into management where they belong so we can move forward in meeting the needs of our taxpayers.”

White’s proposal would affect 24 captains, including four members of Local 1889’s Executive Board — Capt. Nick Fahs, president; Capt. Steve Strobl, vice president; Capt. Mike Yemm, secretary; and Capt. Dave Waser, sergeant at arms.

Fahs told the board April 1, “… Regarding the vote on removing the captains from the bargaining unit, we look forward to this decision at the state level and appreciate the fact that this decision will not be made here in the boardroom at the fire district.

“Researching the issue has given us the confidence to state that we believe the fire district will have a very difficult time in achieving this goal,” he said. “What saddens us is this vote tonight was not a vote that will improve the Mehlville Fire District and it will not improve the safety of the residents either. We perceive it as just a vote about your employees. Thank you for your time and if you ever do want to begin a dialogue, we’re happy to sit (down) and we’re happy to work with you …”

In the petition filed with the State Board of Mediation, Hoffman wrote, “The Mehlville Fire Protection District seeks unit clarification with regard to the position of ‘captain.’ The issue is whether the job classification of ‘captain’ within the district is a supervisory position.

“It is the position of the employer that the job classification of ‘captain’ is supervisory in nature and thus should not be included in the bargaining unit … ‘Captains’ are immediate supervisors of firefighters and they are responsible for seeing that the daily routine is completed. ‘Captains’ exercise supervision over subordinate personnel and have the authority to recommend discipline pursuant to the Rules and Regulations of the Mehlville Fire Protection District.

“‘Captains’ are also responsible for building maintenance and the equipment within the firehouse. They are responsible for incident-scene management and it is the ‘captain’ that answers public questions and inquiries while at the incident scene. The rate of pay is higher and ‘captains,’ as supervisors, wear a white shirt with a gold badge,” Hoffman continued.

“‘Captains’ are also responsible for training and maintaining records of company operations. Further, ‘captains’ are supervisors pursuant to the organizational chart of the district …,” he wrote.

Hilmer told the Call he believes White’s proposal to move captains from the bargaining unit into management, makes a great deal of sense given the responsibilities of the position.

“It was common sense,” he said. “If you look at it in the terms of how can someone who is someone’s superior be expected to manage him and discipline him when he could be the same person who would then represent him during a grievance hearing? It’s asinine.

“We’ve already had harassment and discipline problems at firehouses because someone who perhaps isn’t a captain would represent that captain when it comes to negotiating for wages and benefits. So how could a captain be expected to perform his job?” Hilmer continued.

“To me, it’s a no-brainer. They’re managers. We’re the largest fire district in the county. We have seven firehouses. Are we to believe that a deputy chief who can’t even make it to every firehouse every day can somehow manage seven firehouses? Each captain is a manager of that firehouse and we would like to recognize them accordingly,” the board chairman said.

Asked about Fahs’ comment that the district “will have a very difficult time” in moving captains from the bargaining unit into management, Hilmer said, “Quite frankly, I don’t pay much attention to that.

“We’re just trying to take the district in a positive direction and it’s a shame that after five years all we hear is nay saying from a small minority of employees. Quite frankly, I’ve become accustomed to it, so I don’t pay attention to it.”

Regarding the board’s vote, Fahs told the Call, “I don’t know what they’re trying to do. I mean it’s not going to affect who represents them because we will represent them. We will represent them until our members vote us not to. Just because he tries to take the captains out is a totally separate subject from representation … We have done our research on the captains coming out and there’s clear case history that says that we should prevail.

“And I have every belief that we’re going to prevail. The problem is it just takes the focus and the energy of what this administration and the district — what are they focusing on? … We are very confident that the district will have a very difficult time in achieving this and I say this with all due respect to the chief. But I’d much rather be talking to him about how to make this a better fire department and how to improve customer service …,” Fahs said.