Calif. county, firefighters reach impasse on OT talks

The disagreement centers over paying overtime for firefighters called back to duty from vacation, who the county wants to pay as straight time, not overtime


Doug Keeler, Taft Midway Driller
The Daily Independent, Ridgecrest, Calif.

Kern County firefighters overwhelmingly rejected the County's contract offer Wednesday night in a standoff over overtime compensation and now the two sides are headed for an impasse.

International Association of Firefighters Local 1301 voted 429-1 to reject the offer, which includes changes in overtime policy that the County says would cut overtime expenses by $3.4 million annually and cut into the KCFD's structural budget deficit.

"Regretfully, we haven't been able to reach an agreement with the Union that both maintains Fire service levels and makes real progress in addressing our budget deficit," said Interim Fire Chief David Witt. (Photo/Kern County Fire Department)
"Regretfully, we haven't been able to reach an agreement with the Union that both maintains Fire service levels and makes real progress in addressing our budget deficit," said Interim Fire Chief David Witt. (Photo/Kern County Fire Department)

In response, the County Administrative officer will ask the Board of Supervisors to declare an impasse on May 21.

"Regretfully, we haven't been able to reach an agreement with the Union that both maintains Fire service levels and makes real progress in addressing our budget deficit," said Interim Fire Chief David Witt.

Union President David Nelson had some stronger words.

"We're willing to work with them, but for them to come in straight for blood the way they have just isn't going to get results," he said Thursday morning.

Nelson said the disagreement centers over paying overtime for firefighters called back to duty from vacation.

The county wants to pay those firefighters straight time, Nelson said, instead of overtime.

"If you have a guy who's at home and he drops everything to come back to work and support the community and fire suppression I think overtime is appropriate," he said.

The County sent out a statement early Thursday morning outlining its position.

"The County is specifically asking the union to implement recommendations to reduce overtime spending by at least $3.4 million annually. These recommendations were made by both the County's independently elected Auditor-Controller and the Center for Public Safety Management in their recent audit of the Fire Department. These changes would bring the Fire Department into alignment with Fair Labor Standards Act overtime requirements, of which the County is currently paying in excess."

The County also said firefighter overtime costs are a big factor in a growing structural budget for the fire fund that is straining the general fund.

"If left unaddressed, this deficit will continue to place a heavy burden on other critical County services and public safety functions," said Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop. "It also prevents us from keeping pace on capital investment needs for Fire Department facilities, vehicles, and other equipment, including the replacement of our aging county-wide emergency communication system for our First Responders, which is crucial to keeping the public, our firefighters, and all first responders safe."

But Nelson said, "the problem lies in a lack of planning and foresight by the county."

"We should ask our leaders to foresee problems and plan appropriately. Now they are trying to balance the budget on the back of the employees."

Nelson said firefighters have been working without a contract since 2017.

The current round of talks started on July 20 of last year.

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©2019 The Daily Independent, Ridgecrest, Calif.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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