Agency rules in favor of firefighters in union dispute

Posted: Thursday, October 25, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Alaska Labor Relations Agency has sided with the Fairbanks firefighters union in an unfair labor practice complaint.

The complaint stems from alleged comments made last year by then-mayor Jim Hayes that the city would refuse to fund any arbitrator's award to the union should labor negotiations head to arbitration.

Although the city is not obligated to fund an arbitrator's award, it is still considered unfair practice to use the fact as a bargaining chip, the labor agency ruled.

Hayes' comments came in a contract meeting at a time when negotiations between the Fairbanks Fire Fighter's Association and the city of Fairbanks had been declared at an impasse. The sides had begun to discuss arbitration.

The ruling called Hayes' comments ''evidence of bad faith and coercion.'' The agency ordered city officials to cease making threatening statements or infringing on collective bargaining rights.

The complaint was aired in hearings held in Fairbanks in April. Four union representatives who had been at the meeting testified about Hayes' statements.

Union agent Mark Drygas, the only person taking notes at the meeting, jotted down ''Mayor threatened nonfunding of arbitration agreement.''

Hayes and City Administrative Services Director Pat Cole denied that Hayes had made any such remarks. Cole noted that, had Hayes said words to that effect, he would have immediately called a recess and informed Hayes that such a statement was illegal. They said Drygas had either grossly misinterpreted the meeting in his notes or had planted the note to later use in a grievance.

Drygas has vehemently denied planting the statement.

The three-member labor agency board found all the witnesses credible. But it gave less weight to the testimony of Hayes and Cole, who took no notes and were reportedly fuzzier on the details of the meeting.

''We find Drygas ... did not plant or otherwise falsify the notes of the meeting,'' reads the ruling. ''The Fire Fighters are consistent in their testimony, and we give their testimony full weight.''

According to the ruling, the meeting resulted in the union softening its contract demands.

The board also called ''troublesome'' the fact that Cole and Hayes, despite initially expressing enthusiasm for the April 20 contract proposal, rejected it in June without discussing it with the City Council, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

The city has the right to appeal the board's decision to the court system within the next 30 days.

The decision comes as the city and the union stand at a crossroads in their 6-year-old contract negotiations. The City Council rejected a proposed contract in August and recently declined to rehear it.

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