New: Mehlville Local 1889’s request to join Local 2665 approved

Local 2665 looking to work with district decision makers.

By MIKE ANTHONY

A request by Mehlville Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters to join IAFF Local 2665 met with unanimous approval last week.

In two separate floor votes on Sept. 12 and Sept. 15, a total of 306 members of Professional Fire Fighters of Eastern Missouri Local 2665 voted unanimously to approve Local 1889’s request, according to Kurt Becker, a Local 2665 vice president.

Members of Local 1889 previously had voted in favor of joining Local 2665 and the Local 2665 Executive Board had supported the request.

“… Our Executive Board was very much in favor of absorbing (Local) 1889 and we are happy that our members agreed with us that it was the right decision for both locals to make …,” Becker told the Call. “… Our hope is that the board and the chief over at Mehlville will see this as a positive thing, see this as a new direction for their organization, and our hope is that we can establish a relationship with those folks that is collaborative and productive and in everybody’s best interests.”

In June, Mehlville’s Board of Directors named Brian Hendricks as the district’s interim chief following the resignation of former Chief Tim White.

After being named interim chief, Hendricks told the Call that one area he wanted to enhance was Mehlville’s relationship with surrounding fire districts.

“… We are fortunate that we do work well with the other departments,” Hendricks said at the time. “That’s one thing I want to enhance, absolutely … I want to improve the way we work together and I know that the surrounding districts will embrace it.

“And it’s going to be good for the entire community.”

Of the change in the fire district’s leadership, Becker said, “… It does seem like the spirit there has changed a little bit and I don’t want to look too far down the road because I think it’s just something, you know, everybody’s going to have to feel each other out to a certain extent. The board there and the chief there haven’t dealt with Local 2665 and the way that we do business and while we certainly are aware of the politics in Mehlville, it’s not something that we’ve had our teeth sunk into, so to speak …

“We’re looking at this as an opportunity to build a relationship with the folks that are the decision makers there in the Mehlville Fire District. Our hope is they recognize that the men and women in the Mehlville shop and Local 2665 are key stakeholders and that we’re all very much co-dependent and interrelated and hopefully we can figure out how to put some of the discord that’s taken place behind us and move forward and do what’s right for, like I said, all the stakeholders that are involved in this.”

Local 2665 Vice President Garry Olson will be responsible for representing the Mehlville Local 2665 shop, according to Becker.

“… This is something that we’re all very much invested in and we take a very team-oriented approach to allocating resources and solving problems and I’m sure that there will be a host of faces involved in the dialogue and stuff like that going on in Mehlville as time goes on …,” he added.

The leadership of Local 1889 has been at odds with Mehlville’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 to the board 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 lawsuit. 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.

Of the unanimous vote by Local 2665, Becker said, “… Our members sent a clear message I think to the men and women of Local 1889 that we’re going to accept those guys with open arms, that we’re very excited about the prospect of this relationship and we go into it fully informed. We know that they’ve got challenges down there and we know that it’s going to take some hard work. But we genuinely believe that it is, without question, the right thing for the fire service in the metropolitan area to be as consolidated under one umbrella as possible.

“And we feel like Local 2665 is uniquely suited to be able to make that happen and our hope is that as we move forward things are going to get better there for everybody involved.”

Hilmer told the Call he welcomed the opportunity to work with Local 2665 officials and Mehlville employees.

“The board has always hoped for a relationship with employees based on fiscal responsibility to taxpayers. We certainly hope that mistakes from the past will not be repeated or revisited,” he said. “The board is very happy with employees and we feel we have put a structure in place along with a great management team that creates an environment for employees to flourish and advance, if they are willing.

“… Considering we will have flat revenue for several years going forward, we’d welcome any input on ways to consolidate and become more efficient,” Hilmer added.