Firefighters Condemn City Council Decision On Arbitration

FAIRBANKS, AK &#8211 A half-dozen members of the Fairbanks Firefighters Union chastised the Fairbanks City Council during the public comment period at Monday’s council meeting.

Criticisms came in response to a July 21 decision when the council voted 4-2 not to fund, or even advance to public comment, an arbitration agreement between FFU and the City of Fairbanks.

The arbitration agreement would have transferred $60,500 from the city’s general fund to help pay health-care premiums for FFU. The union, which is termed class-one and not allowed to strike, has been without a contract since Jan. 1.

“Soul crushing” and “morale breaking” were just some of the sentiments shared by firefighters in response to the July vote.

“The four ‘no’ votes were very, very disappointing. Especially for a first reading with no public comment,” FFU President Dominic Lozano said. “You saved the city $60,000 this year, but created an unfriendly environment.”

One statistic cited by firefighters was the average length of employment for new hires — 1.9 years. Lozano confirmed that number, and added tracking began in 2006.

“We invest thousands and thousands of dollars, and these young guys leave when they realize there’s no future for them here at the Fairbanks Fire Department. You’re going to be left with a ghost team of firefighters that may or may not want to stick around,” Dave Naber said.

Councilman Bernard Gatewood said he was “bothered” by his “no” vote three weeks ago, citing both public comments and personal reflection. Other council members shared similar sentiments.

One recurring issue was the question of legality — with many firefighters feeling the council simply chose to disregard a binding agreement.

“They might have the legal right to non-fund monetarily,” Lozano said, but, “they’ve taken this legal option to the extreme.”

The arbitrator sided with the fire department, stating the city should pay 80 percent of health care premiums, with the members responsible for the remaining 20 percent.

The contract with FFU — one of four unions the city employs — is now back in negotiations.

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