Arbitrator rules against former Fairbanks firefighter

Posted: Wednesday, October 11, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- An independent arbitrator has dismissed three grievances against the city of Fairbanks by former firefighter Jim Rice.

Arbitrator Janet Gaunt concluded that while Rice's initial departure from his job was coerced, it became a voluntary separation when Rice decided to apply for retirement benefits and elected to seek front pay instead of reinstatement when he sued the city for ''constructive discharge.''

That disqualified him as a member of the bargaining unit, the arbitrator said.

''Mr. Rice had no right to process grievances seeking rehire through the contractual grievance procedure. The grievances are accordingly dismissed,'' Gaunt concluded in her 30-page report, which was completed Saturday.

Rice did not return a phone message Tuesday from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

''I am glad it's over. I'm glad we held our guns and what we're doing is right,'' Fairbanks Mayor Jim Hayes said.

Rice and Lee Despain resigned from the fire department in 1995, citing intolerable working conditions.

The men said they resigned after reporting that then-Public Safety Director Mike Pulice was overstating his ''comp'' time.

The former firefighters won a combined $1.6 million judgment against the city in March of this year. That judgment was upheld by the Alaska Supreme Court.

The first of the three grievances was filed in February of 1998.

Mark Drygas, business agent for the Fairbanks Firefighters Association, filed on Rice's behalf, contesting the city's refusal to re-employ Rice.

In April of 1999, Rice filed a second grievance challenging the city's failure to employ him as deputy fire marshal, a position vacated in February of 1999.

Rice alleged the city's refusal to hire him was an act of discrimination, harassment and retaliation for his union activities and for bringing a successful lawsuit against the city.

Rice filed a third grievance in December of 1999, alleging continued discrimination, harassment and retaliation.

The pair accepted job offers by the city to return to firefighter positions in an April 24 letter signed by city attorney Joe Evans.

Neither man currently is employed by the city, Mayor Hayes said.

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