A Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue engine returns last month from a call. The Steamboat City Council is sending Gov. John Hickenlooper a letter opposing a bill that would grant firefighters here collective bargaining rights.

Photo by Scott Franz

A Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue engine returns last month from a call. The Steamboat City Council is sending Gov. John Hickenlooper a letter opposing a bill that would grant firefighters here collective bargaining rights.

Steamboat City Council opposes bill that would give local firefighters collective bargaining rights

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— In a rare move, the Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday night agreed to send Gov. John Hickenlooper a letter opposing a Senate bill that aims to give all firefighters in the state collective bargaining rights.

Council members said for the state to force cities to recognize firefighters' unions and offer them collective bargaining rights without the approval of voters here would “damage local control.”

“This issue has a big impact on our community,” council member Walter Magill said before the council agreed to oppose the bill.

Firefighters in municipalities currently have to ask their local voters to approve collective bargaining rights.

Interim City Manager Deb Hinsvark told the Steamboat Today last month that the bill would “erode our power as a home rule city."

She added that she worried the bill could force cities to agree to salary increases for firefighters throughout an extended number of years and give one group of employees a power that is not held by any other group of city employees.

“That could be damaging for a city that relies on sales tax and there's volatility in the revenue stream,” she said about the potential salary negotiations.

The head of Steamboat's firefighting union had a different view of the bill.

Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue Capt. Michael Arce, a 16-year veteran of the department, said collective bargaining would benefit local emergency workers.

“It gives us the right to sit at the table (with city managers) and have a voice, and that goes with anything from safety to compensation,” he said. “Anybody would love the chance to sit at the table with their boss.”

The local firefighters' union, which represents 26 of the department's 28 full-time firefighters, currently is not recognized by the city.

The state firefighters' union is touting the results of a recent statewide poll that showed 86 percent of respondents supported giving firefighters collective bargaining rights.

The council's decision to send Hickenlooper a letter opposing the Senate bill was not unanimous.

“I don't know that I'm comfortable with us jumping into something that is so politically charged and partisan,” council member Sonja Macys said, adding that she wouldn't sign the letter.

Senate Bill 25 is strongly opposed by the Colorado Municipal League, of which the city of Steamboat Springs is a member.

Anticipating the bill soon will pass the Democratic-controlled House, the CML has encouraged local governments to voice their opposition directly to Gov. Hickenlooper.

A similar piece of legislation in 2009 also was opposed by the CML, the city of Steamboat Springs and the City Council.

But it was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, who said the legislation would “overturn the will of the voters in communities that have voted not to give firefighters collective bargaining rights.”

When the latest Senate bill first was introduced, it wasn't clear whether Steamboat's full-time firefighting force would be affected because it had less than 50 firefighters.

City Attorney Tony Lettunich said last week that unlike the 2009 bill, the latest version would impact Steamboat and all departments that have more than one firefighter.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

David Carrick 1 year, 2 months ago

"The local firefighters' union, which represents 26 of the department's 28 full-time firefighters, currently is not recognized by the city."

"But it was vetoed by Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter, who said the legislation would 'overturn the will of the voters in communities that have voted not to give firefighters collective bargaining rights.'"

So why not just put it on the local ballot, and allow the local voters to decide the issue, rather than that decision being made for them by the city council?

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Fred Duckels 1 year, 2 months ago

One needs not look far to see the carnage left by public unions and their symbiotic relationship with a political party. This will be the Camel's nose under the tent.

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david gibbs 1 year, 2 months ago

The city manager typically works under a contract. Why would it be bad for the fire fighters to be able to negotiate a contract. Do white collar workers deserve more negotiating rights than blue collar workers that risk their life?

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John St Pierre 1 year, 2 months ago

???? what staewide poll ???? who where does this stuff come from... can anyone tell me has anyone ever contacted you for a poll????? On anything???

Let it be a vote of the local people it effects..... I guess if they had a strike the Volunteers would come back?????

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Jeff LaRoche 1 year, 2 months ago

I dont comment on here very often but this is an issue I feel strongly about. The fire and police are not treated fairly in this town. The police tried to get a union together a number of years ago and it was disbanded beacuse people were threatned with their jobs if they pushed the issue any further. Unions are meant to give the employee a voice that is heard. With police and fire, they put their lives on the line every day they suit up and its not fair to say that Denver PD or Denver Fire employees are taking more risk. Our cost of living is more here than there by far and they make a significant more amount than our guys here do. One reason they do is because of the union that they have there. Im not saying break the bank but lets just be fair to our guys instead of having the biggest turnover rate in Steamboat! Lets quit being a startup job for cops and fire and lets keep the ones we have!

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Fred Duckels 1 year, 2 months ago

Right now the fireman can communicate with the city but are not able to issue ultimatums.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 2 months ago

City Manager has a contract because of free market forces in that no one qualified for the job would move here to take a job and then be fired in a few months.

Locally, firefighters have a challenge in their claims of being underpaid by the simple fact the fire dept has apparently had no troubles retaining or attracting firefighters. Firefighters are often active people and so living in SB with the local recreation options makes being a SB firefighter a desirable job even if it doesn't pay as well as some other places.

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david gibbs 1 year, 2 months ago

Let me get this straight. It is OK to pay people who risk their lives in the service of the community, what amounts to be, poverty wages because Steamboat is a wonderful place to live? Is your statement about "no troubles retaining or attracting" accurate?

If a firefighter making 35k is willing to move to Steamboat without a contract, it is hard to believe that a qualified manager making 150k would not be willing to do the same. If past managers are any indication, they are not rocket scientist.

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Kevin Nerney 1 year, 2 months ago

David, you have to forgive Scott W as he knows not what he's talking about. Scott being active type A personalities has nothing to do with how wonderful Steamboat may or may not be. and whether or not they want to come here to fight fires Little kids grow up wanting to be fireman (firefighters p.c.) I don't know any kids who instead of playing with fire trucks and bulldozers sit around in front of a desk saying " I'm gonna grow up to be a city manager!". Public vote should not be the venue for whether or not Cops and Fireman can join a union. That is not only an internal matter it is not what the public polling places were intended for. If the city wants Professional Firefighters they have to pay for Professional Firefighters, if they want volunteers then they will get what they pay for. Volley's rightfully don't stick their necks out as far as pro's do.

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jerry carlton 1 year, 2 months ago

You can not pay a fireman or police officer what they are worth (very much) because there are so many and you can pay a city manager what they are worth (very little) because there are so few.

Fred I agree with you 95% of the time and I agree with you on public unions, but you probably pay a good trackhoe operator more than a police officer or fireman more than they make in this town. I concede that no police officers or fire men have been killed for a long time in Steamboat but I would suspect that their professions are higher risk than a trackhoe operator.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 2 months ago

I am not saying that under a pay scale based upon karma that firefighters are fairly paid.

I am just saying that SB has not had problems attracting or retaining firefighters.

Firefighters have been willing to move here to work. Presumably, one of the considerations they take into account is how long they will be able to work here before expecting to be fired. Since SB has a reasonably well managed fire dept, new hires do not expect mass layoffs and so new hires can expect to have stable careers as a SB firefighter.

Meanwhile, city manager and SSSD Superintendent are two jobs which any hire should be expected to be fired within a couple of years. Anyone taking those jobs has to figure the costs of soon enough being out of that job and so demands a contract with a severance package.

It is not fair, it is not right. It is just economic reality.

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Jeff LaRoche 1 year, 2 months ago

Scott, Tomorrow if there were a huge fire at your house and these guys showed up and saved you, your house and/or your family Im pretty sure you would say they are worth it. A city manager is a city manager because they dont want to be a fire fighter. It takes a unique individual to WANT to be a fire fighter. There could be a fire any day that kills any one of these guys, not to mention a domestic violence situation that they are caught in the middle of because they are trying to help someone that is hurt. They not only risk their lives when they have to in a fire but they put up with some of the most grotesque things humans would ever have to. Cleaning urine, feces, throwup, blood. Remember these guys are all EMT's and most paramedics. They are doing this job because they love the work. Not the money. Why is there a waiting list for the fire department in Redding that is 5 years long? Wouldnt you think we should at least have the same if not better retention than they do? Who wants to live in Redding, PA! Lets give these guys a voice to at least fight for what they are worth and have a leg to stand on. Currently they can ask for whatever they want and the city can say whatever they want. The city then wins because "They are the boss" Thats not fair in any situation. THIS IS WHY the city does not want unions.. Think about it, it would make sense the city would fight this because it would mean that they have less POWER and would feel weaker. Let the fellas at least make their points to the city with a little bit behind it. This dosent mean the city looses any ground they have it just means that the fellas will be treated how they deserve to and will be able to use a litmus status quo of other departments to get the equipment that the big cities have that could save your life.

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kyle pietras 1 year, 2 months ago

Not cool...These guys are dedicated and there for all of us!

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 2 months ago

Economics sometimes matter.

It is not as if firefighters are so noble that they will take any available job regardless of pay.

There certainly have been fire districts that have trouble hiring and retaining firefighters.

SB has not had that problem. It is probably true that if Denver Fire dept paid salaries the same as SB then they would have problems retaining and hiring firefighters.

So why doesn't SB have problems retaining and hiring firefighters? Firefighters tend to work long shifts and then have several days off. In a place like SB, those days off are easier to enjoy. No need to spend hours traveling and then rent a motel room to ski or whatever.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 2 months ago

The bill does not alter firefighter's freedom to associate, assemble, speak or anything else. A firefighter union official can show up at a fire district board meeting and speak for their firefighters. The article states that SB firefighters have exercised their freedoms to join an union.

The bill reduces the freedom of the fire district by requiring that the union be recognized as the collective bargaining unit for their firefighters, even for any firefighters that don't agree with the union. Currently, SB fire district has exercised their freedom to not enter into collective bargaining agreements with the union.

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Scott Glynn 1 year, 2 months ago

Born and bred in metro Detroit, I come from one of the largest union areas in the country. I have witnessed the union impact first hand. The union business model is outdated. While it had its place post industrial revolution to protect workers from overzealous industrial magnates, it has morphed into a crutch that workers have used to reward mediocrity. I have several friends and acquaintances in the local fire/police community as well as several family members that serve their communities in the same capacity. I respect each and every one of them and I am very grateful for the job that they do. While the collective bargaining principle has negotiating merits on the surface, the deeper seeds that eventually get sown are the impacts of protecting workers who are not willing/able to perform their duty. If a firefighter has to rely on his brethren to do their jobs or perish, does he want to rush into that burning building knowing that the guy behind him having been accused of dereliction of duty is simply on his 2nd "probation" as opposed to being terminated? Unions are a nice concept, but what eventually happens, is the only people that benefit from the unions are the union officers themselves. I have witnessed first hand the politics and corruption. At the end of the day the amount of money the negotiating parties (both sides) lose, would be a nice pay raise for everyone.

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Stan Zuber 1 year, 2 months ago

A Union is what made this country great. Unions are only as strong as it's members. Unions are reactionary, they came into being because something is wrong. I believe some Unions have changed their way of thinking on handling differences by going to interest arbitration rather than going on strike. The mediocrity that Scott refers to, happens because it is allowed to happen by both parties. As far as Unions are a nice concept, be careful what you wish for.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 2 months ago

In a historical context, unions were needed when there were no legal protections. There was a time when steel workers averaged more than a fatality a day. There was no minimum wage. Companies conspired to to cut worker's pay and not compete for employees.

Along the way, unions have won federal workplace protections for all workers and thus a safer workplace is not an union benefit. And so on.

Unions are now a small percentage of private sector employees, but now mostly represent government employees. That disconnect between private and public employees is part of the reason for TEA Party and other reactionary political trends. This disconnect between private sectors workers in a competitive environment concerned about layoffs and such while public sector employees get great benefits without layoffs and so governments at all levels are looking for additional revenues streams. It is not sustainable.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 2 months ago

Private sector companies are constantly under competitive pressure to be more efficient. So over the past 20 years they have greatly reduced number of managers.

But private sector is under no such pressure and doesn't change.

If you compare a private sector company to city of SB then the differences are obvious. SB has the management structure of a huge company, not of a similarly size private company.

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