OMAHA, NE – The Nebraska Supreme Court upheld a state accountability commission’s finding that Omaha firefighters can’t legally participate in roadside collections for charities on city time using city-owned uniforms and equipment.
Friday’s ruling targets so-called “boot drives,” in which uniformed firefighters ask for donations at traffic intersections, malls and supermarkets. The money goes to organizations like the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
In 2010, the Nebraska Accountability and Disclosure Commission issued an opinion that the practice violated a state law that bans public employees from using their positions or public resources to benefit businesses with which they may be associated.
The Nebraska Professional Fire Fighters Association, which is the state firefighters union, and the Muscular Dystrophy Association challenged that finding in Lancaster County District Court. In February 2011, the court dismissed the challenge, saying the union and MDA failed to first file a grievance with the commission — as prescribed by law — before taking the matter to court.
The Nebraska Court of Appeals agreed that the courts lacked jurisdiction to review the commission’s advisory opinion, and, on Friday, the state’s high court upheld the dismissal for lack of jurisdiction.
The ruling means firefighters must collect donations on their own time and without using city equipment, such as work boots and uniforms.
That’s how fire departments around Nebraska have been operating since the commission’s opinion was released, said David Engler, president of the state firefighters union.
“As such, we’ve taken a big hit in fundraising,” Engler said. “Typically, there’s been a reduction of about half of the money usually raised.”
Engler said the union has not had a chance to review the Nebraska Supreme Court’s ruling. After doing so, “we’ll determine where to go from there,” he said.
A message left Friday the Muscular Dystrophy Association in Tucson, Ariz., was not immediately returned.
Scott Kuehl, a firefighter in Grand Island and president of his local firefighters union, said Friday that his department has had more success than others in raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association now that firefighters can’t hold drives on city time using city-issued equipment.
“The process has now become so jaded and bogged down with this anti-union worker sentiment around the country,” Kuehl said. “It’s not like we’re not responding to calls or doing our duty when we’re out there collecting for charity.”
Kuehl said his department raised $80,000 in the last year for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. They did it on their own time, using their personal gear and old gear taken out of public service. Rather than using a city-owned firetruck as a backdrop at collection sites, firefighters have used restored antique firetrucks owned by fellow firefighters, he said.
“People are still willing to give, whether we’re wearing our official uniform or not,” Kuehl said.
From The Washington Examiner.