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State firefighters' group boycotts Clearwater

CLEARWATER — A statewide association of firefighters is weighing in on the clash between the city of Clearwater and local firefighters.

The Florida Professional Firefighters Association unanimously passed a resolution last week at its annual convention in Tampa asking all of its members to boycott Clearwater. The association represents 26,000 firefighters statewide.

"They are refusing to treat firefighters with respect," said FPF president Bob Carver. "If they don't support firefighters, we, throughout the state and hopefully the nation, will not support the city of Clearwater."

Carver said he is going ask the national organization, which has nearly 300,000 firefighters, at its convention in August to pass a similar resolution.

Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard said he was disappointed by the association's decision.

"It's a shame that our union wants to escalate things that will hurt all of the working class people in our tourist industry in Clearwater," Hibbard said.

International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1158's president John Lee said its members are just as disappointed in the city.

"We are working-class people," Lee said. "We are getting terminated without just cause. We are getting demoted with no just cause. At some point and time, the council has to tell somebody that this has got to stop."

Clearwater and the union have tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a contract for the past year. The 2004-07 contract with the city expired in October, and firefighters have been working without one since then. The city will not give firefighters a budgeted 3 percent raise until a deal is reached.

In May, the city declared an impasse and requested that a special magistrate from the state's Public Employees Relations Commission hold a hearing and make a recommendation on a contract to the city and the local union.

Clearwater City Manager Bill Horne sees the boycott as an attempt to "intimidate" the city.

"I'm not surprised by the union's tactics." Horne said. "We just think they seem to frame their issues in a personal way. It's a way to intimidate the city into agreeing to their demands that they have been unable to achieve at the bargaining table."

The city and the firefighters union have battled in the past few years. In May 2006, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission determined that fire Chief Jamie Geer discriminated against a female firefighter by not allowing her to take a make-up promotion exam, though he did allow a male firefighter to do so.

On three occasions in 2006, state hearing officers upheld union complaints that Geer or other city officials violated members' right to conduct union business. Last year, three separate federal arbitrations ruled that the city failed to follow proper procedures when firing two paramedics and a fire inspector. All three employees returned to work.

Hibbard said the city has moved beyond those issues.

"We certainly have made our policies such we will avoid these in the future by making certain that all of our employee decisions are iron-clad," he said. "But I can't do anything about the past."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com.

State firefighters' group boycotts Clearwater 06/20/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 25, 2008 7:34pm]
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