Last Modified: Sunday, July 06, 2014 2:20 PM
The ordinance authorizing the city to enter into a memorandum of understanding agreement with the Lake Charles firefighters union was somewhat hidden on Wednesday’s City Council agenda. Sandwiched between an ordinance about Police Department vehicles and another ordinance about the city’s personnel policy manual, it easily could have gone unnoticed.
Still, the limited fanfare over the ordinance doesn’t diminish what the step represents. For the city, it means entering into an agreement that’s flexible and progressive. For the firefighters, it means getting solutions for some of the department’s major concerns through an agreement that’s more than a handshake and less strict than a contract.
The agreement includes two parts — personnel policy items and the memorandum of understanding. Mayor Randy Roach touched on the details of the memorandum of understanding during the meeting. Before getting into the specifics, he thanked the union for the work it has done, and he retraced the steps that led to the agreement now in place.
“I really do appreciate the cooperation with the firefighters’ association working through this agreement,” he said. “Although this is not a formal contract, I think the items you have on the agenda tonight go a long way toward a good working relationship between the city and the union.”
The first aspect of the memorandum of understanding Roach addressed was the union and union dues.
“It highlights the recognition of the union and also talks about the policy that we will continue, and that is to collect and deduct from the employees’ pay the union dues and remit those dues to the union,” Roach said.
The document also addresses representation for the individual members of the Fire Department during things like disciplinary actions or investigations. The final aspect of it addressed during the meeting focused on finding a way to provide quick answers to policy questions.
“It talks about the creation of a management committee in partnership with the fire chief to work through policy issues and other questions that might come up during the day-to-day operations of the department,” Roach said.
District Fire Chief Chris Carroll, liaison for International Association of Fire Fighters Local 561, has been along for the entire ride as the union and the city worked toward common ground. He said the flexibility in the memorandum of understanding is a great thing for the firefighters.
“In a memorandum of understanding, we can negotiate through the whole term, and that helps a lot,” Carroll said.
A main concern that remains for the union deals with longevity pay. Longevity pay plays a role in the everyday lives of the firefighters, and Carroll said that’s an important part of the discussion.
He said no matter what happens in the future, the trust between the council, the union and the city administration is at an all-time high. He said he wants to make sure residents know that they will always be the department’s main priority.
“We apologize to the citizens if they felt this was an inconvenience or a disservice,” Carroll said. “I just want them to know that never was their service compromised. When that bell rings, we’re always going to be there no matter if we’re on good terms with the city or we’re on bad terms.”