County cancels bargaining position for Sedgwick County firefighters

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Sedgwick County commissioners also act as the governing body for the county fire department. Wednesday, they rescinded bargaining with the firefighting union.

“We rescinded our participation in PEERA,” says County Commissioner, Doug Unruh.

Commissioners voted 4-0 to stop participating in what is essentially a bargaining set of guidelines, called PEERA.

PEERA is the Kansas Public Employer-Employee Relations Act. And, without it, firefighters say they now are left wondering how they will bargain for things like healthcare, pay and benefits.

“My concern is injury leave. If we lose injury leave, that’s something that is vital to us,” says firefighter Don Stewart. “We put our bodies on the line out there to fight fires… and sometimes our bodies pay the price.We have to have good injury leave.”

Stewart joined a couple dozen firefighters at the county commission meeting Wednesday. That included union leaders.

“I’m, saddened by it. PEERA is the recognition of a public employee relations group or association that represents the firefighters and Lt.s of Sedgwick County,” says Sedgwick County Firefighters union President, Dave Thompson. “PEERA is nothing more than a communication effort that spirits dialogue between employer and employees, with not cost.”

County commissioners say they wanted to stop participating in PEERA, as the first step in reorganizing the county fire department spending.

While commissioners did not say exactly how they will reorganize, or how stopping participation in bargaining would help, they did say it’s time to act on the county fire budget.

“‘I’ve been concerned about finances for fire district budget. We are in the red and losing money. We need to address this issue sooner rather than later, says commissioner Richard Ranzau. “I think the firefighters need to understand that we are losing money and that at some point in the next few years, the (fire) district (#1) will be bankrupt. That means they will have no money left. We won’t have any money left to pay anybody anything.”

But some firefighter representatives say they remain skeptical of the motivation to do away with bargaining.

“The commission continues to say they are going to save money by doing away with this,” says Thompson, “but they give no details whatsoever.”

Other county leaders say firefighters will still have solid benefits and pay.

” The fire district (#1) was always considered a separate entity, an island unto itself. And I think the decision today makes them a part of the bigger team. The county team,” says Assistant County Manger, Tom Stolz. “Nobody can be an island unto themselves, and I think the decision today promotes that. And I think that it is the commission’s intention and I guarantee you it’s… county management’s intention to make sure these firefighters are compensated fairly, that they have the same benefits that they do today.”

PEERA rules for bargaining and the current contract continues through 2017.