Firefighters look to Teamsters union for help with city

Firefighters responded to an early-morning structure fire on Monterey Drive in St. George. While no one was harmed in the blaze, the house was a total loss, St. George, Utah, July 9, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – A majority of firefighters employed by the city of St. George want the Teamsters to represent them due to an allegedly hostile work environment within the city, the union claimed in a press release Friday.

Firefighters employed by the City of St. George approached the Teamsters late last year seeking representation in the work place and a voice on the job,” wrote Spencer Hogue, a representative of the Teamsters Local 222 out of Salt Lake City.

According to the release, complaints firefighters have against the city include “environment of retaliation, favoritism, substandard pay, inequality, discrimination and a blatant lack of respect.”

St. George News contacted Fire Chief Robert Stoker who said late Friday that he was unable to speak to the situation and recommended further inquiries go to the city attorney.

The Teamsters contacted the city in December 2016 and informed officials that a majority of the firefighters wanted the union to represent them and requested a time to engage in collective bargaining. However, the city did not recognize the Teamsters in that capacity.

File photo: Firefighters respond to a residential structure fire after the homeowner called 911 when smoke filled the attic area of the residence on 2830 South Street, St. George, Utah, Nov. 30, 2016 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News.

The Teamsters also suggested the city use an independent third party to confirm that a majority of employed firefighters are interested in joining the union, but that was also declined by the city, Hogue wrote.

“It is disappointing that the city believes its employees should be denied access to the bargaining representative of their choice,” Hogue wrote in the release. “They also fail to see the that the reason their employees are seeking representation is because of their own poor management.”

St. George City Attorney Shawn Guzman confirmed Friday that the city had been contacted by the Teamsters and that it had declined to recognize them.

“Their attorney called me and asked if we were going to recognize the Teamsters for the purpose of collective bargaining for the employees and I informed him we would not,” Guzman said.

In Hogue’s original communications with the city, Guzman said, he presented the city with state code related to firefighters and collective bargaining.

“We believe those statutes didn’t apply to the city,” Guzman said, adding the state code had been shot down as unconstitutional in the 1970s by the Utah Supreme Court.

The court ruled that a legislative body, like a city council that is elected and accountable to the the electorate, cannot surrender its authority to an arbitrary body that represents the interests of a particular group and may not necessarily be accountable to the public or reflect the public interest.

Hogue spoke with St. George News Friday and said he understands the statute had been ruled unconstitutional and was unenforceable. However, he also said the code provides fair and realistic guidelines for how the union and city could begin the bargaining process.

“I think we could use it as a way to structure the bargaining process,” Hogue said, “Or if they want to start from scratch, we can do that too.”

Public employees do not fall under the National Labor Relations Act, he said, and therefore fall under state law.

“Unfortunately the state statutes aren’t strong enough to give us the tools and (the city employees) the tools to organize like they would under the private sector,” Hogue said.

File photo: Teamsters Local 222 representative Spencer Hogue during a protest held by Gold Cross Amublance employees calling for better working conditions, St. George, Utah, July 25, 2015 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

The St. George firefighters originally were not on the Teamsters’ radar, Hogue said. They approached the union after seeing the role they played in representing Gold Cross Ambulance employees in 2015.

The firefighters wanted representation that would result in something that was “in writing” and “guaranteed,” Hogue said, saying the firefighters claimed the city has a history of failing to follow through when it comes to employee-related matters.

The firefighters also want the Teamsters to have their backs due to fears of retaliation, he said. Some firefighters who voiced their concerns were, in their their opinion, blacklisted and passed over for promotion, he said.

The list of allegations is news to the city, Guzman said, as Hogue had initially only shared a general description of employees being unhappy with how they were being treated.

Hogue said that he did not go in-depth with the firefighters’ concerns at the time.

The Fire Department in St. George has a long and proud history with the city,” Guzman said, “and the employees are valued just as much as all of our employees are.”

While Hogue said the firefighters felt they had no reliable avenues within the city to air their grievances, Guzman said that is not the case.

File photo: Firefighters mop up following a house fire on Lava Point Drive in St George. One of the firefighters was injured when the garage door collapsed and fell on top of him, St. George, Utah, Sept. 19, 2016 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George

“They are free to talk to the fire chief, to the human resources director, the city manager or the elected officials,” he said.

Prior to Friday’s press release, Hogue emailed Guzman Wednesday evening asking for him to state the city’s reasoning as to why city officials may believe “employees of St. George City Fire are somehow excluded from organizing a union in their work place and therefore not able to enjoy the benefits of a collective bargaining agreement.”

Guzman, who is currently out of town, said he received the email Thursday and there hadn’t been a chance to respond to it.

“It’s disappointing that we haven’t had an opportunity to respond to them since we received the letter,” Guzman said.

Overall, city employees are free to join unions if they like, Guzman added.

If that is the case, Hogue said, then all the better. However, for the firefighters to join the Teamsters, they first need to be able to organize as a group that is recognized as being represented by the union, he said.

The union will use all the options at its disposal in an effort to deliver the dignity and respect that these hardworking public servants deserve,” Hogue wrote in Friday’s press release.

As of mid-2016, the St. George Fire Department consisted of 32 full-time employees, nine part-time employees, and 70 reservists. They respond to over 6,000 emergency calls annually.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

 

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!

25 Comments

  • Robert January 14, 2017 at 11:49 am

    Brought to you by the pathetic city leaders who think more of their pet projects, than the protection of the city residents

  • mesaman January 14, 2017 at 9:56 pm

    It is really unfortunate that this important and valued sector of the city’s department of public safety has had to resort to unionizing. It can only reflect on the ineptitude of our city government and it’s unwillingness to cooperate with these firefighters in seeking a reasonable remedy. Shame on them, from the mayor on down.

  • riccie January 15, 2017 at 1:32 am

    Its amazing to me about these firefighters. If you really do an in-depth time study of their work schedule. You will see that the work they do on their “shift” is pretty easy. Yes, when they work a fire or other hazard event they work hard. Some harder than the others. Some are assigned more risks than others. However, when they are not working a fire, and other important duties, they get to do many more personal things than those in the private sector do not get to do. For example they get paid to sleep, to exercise, to eat, to plan their family vacation, to run some personal errands, to play video games, watch TV, prepare a Sunday school lesson, wash their hair, write a letter, look for another part time job, check the progress of the house they are having built for them, take a nap, conduct real estate, and insurance business, go shopping, banking, pay bills, vehicle repairs, plan their other part time job assignments, send texts, phone calls to their girlfriends, wives, significant other, plan their hunting trips, watch porno movies, and other movies, ride around in vehicles and run errands that are not always fire related and a host of many more. Remember they get paid to do all these things in their “down” time. Its not always fire, hazmat, medical emergencies, clean up, maintenance, training, writing reports etc. The average firefighter only works 10 to 13 days a month. And unlike the private sector can do all these things listed. Besides they also get all the amenities and benefits. Ya when they “work” they work hard. They also brag about it to their friends and those looking in to the profession how easy and financially rewarding it is. Other City employees wish they could work the same schedules that the firefighters do. How about having a 24 hour utility clerk just in case someone wants to file a paper for service in the early hours of the morning.
    UNION?!? Wow like they don’t get enough already.

    • comments January 15, 2017 at 11:45 am

      LOL, probly true

    • McMurphy January 15, 2017 at 12:14 pm

      Everything you say is probably correct. So, does that mean firefighters should not have or deserve an environment free from “… retaliation, favoritism, substandard pay, inequality, discrimination and a blatant lack of respect.”?

  • riccie January 15, 2017 at 1:00 pm

    “Probably Correct”?!?! Wow; How about investigating it for yourself and find if it is absolutely true and not probably true?
    As far as the allegations. is there absolute proof this has happened or is this just some of the firefighters imaginations it has happened? IF, it has happened the employee evaluations should show that it has happened. Would that imply that Chief Stoker is the one behind it all because he is the one in charge of the Firefighters and their evaluations. Is he falsifying the evaluations? Is he the one that is showing favoritism? He is not in charge of the amount they are paid for their services. Is he not showing the respect to his crew? It would be wonderful for these disgruntled employees to bring this to light and not just throw out accusations.
    Like I stated all the city employees would love to be on the same schedule the firefighters are on. The parks and recreation people would love to put in a 24, 48 hour shift then go home for 3 to 4 days never to be bothered again. Same with the power department people. The police department people do not get to live the same lifestyle as the Firefighters they have to work no matter how tired they are. The same with every other employee of the city.

    • Lastdays January 15, 2017 at 3:03 pm

      Wrong again !
      I believe a typical SGFD work shift would be: Mon 7am to Tues 7am, off 24 hrs, Wed 7 am to Thur 7am, off 24 hrs, Fri 7am to Sat 7am, then off 4 days. Repeat until about ten 24hr shifts that month.(240hrs) Compare to four 40hr weeks for most employees which equals 160hrs a month.
      Work day is training, maintenance, calls, etc and other emergencies. After dinner, mostly reports and other stuff to catch up. Maybe bed at 10pm. Then probably 4-5 calls spaced out through the night so sleep is thoroughly interrupted.
      Police work rotating shifts every 3-4 months going from days, swing then graveyard. No picnic there either.
      Most police and fire careers can end after 20yrs. Other government employees put in 30 for same retirement plan.
      However, most emergency service folks are wiped out by 20yrs of their schedule and are in same poor health as the office drone who sits on their Ar$$ for 30yrs.
      Do more research! Police, Fire, EMS and dispatch work harder than the rest of us.

      • riccie January 15, 2017 at 5:11 pm

        Lastdays

        I’ve never known a fireman who “are wiped out after 20 years”. They all have other shifts they lobby for that allow them considerable overtime pay. They all have other jobs they do on their days off. AND they do have a lot of down time, that is not at bed time. Especially talk to our friends that work in Las Vegas as fireman. I’ve had direct family members who have worked with St George firemen and observed their conduct and mannerism and their actual work time. Not every night is a call night especially with various station responses. Yes they work hard like I stated before. Maybe you should reread what I posted earlier. However do they work harder than the parks people? Or how about the Hospital people? Or how about the food service people, construction people? You deny that they have any down time and do not do what I stated earlier. nor heard how they talk and brag about it.
        Maybe you should do your research.

  • r2d2 January 15, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    First of all you can’t believe anything the union tells you. Their majority may be one or two people. I’ve been on the employee side of this and unions are not that great.

  • .... January 15, 2017 at 10:34 pm

    The Internet is filled with lies and fake news and plain garbage like some of the posts on this article

    • Real Life January 16, 2017 at 12:18 pm

      Says the guy posting garbage under multiple names.

  • factcheck January 17, 2017 at 1:07 am

    @riccie you are hilarious. An in depth research? What did your in depth research consist of? Your argument is blatantly skewed. Regardless of that mess, I just wanted to inject some FACTS and common sense into your rant. Firefighters there work 240+ hours a month compared to other employees who work 160 hours a month. That’s an 80 hour difference!!! These guys make 30 something thousand a year. That’s peanuts! (Yep that’s why they’re looking for a second job, to make ends meet) You want to work more hours -80 more to be exact but still make the same amount? Go for it. You don’t think these guys would love to work a normal 9-5 40 hr week and go home to their family every night and still make their measly $30k? Of course they would but they can’t, someone needs to be at station 24/7. These guys basically live there so yes they do more errands and everyday things than the rest. But you said “washing their hair? Watching porno movies?(what are you smoking?) Video games? Vehicle repairs??? You are sadly mistaken (not sure what fire dept that’s at but it’s not in st George!). Also, they don’t get paid to sleep, they get paid to sit at the station and be ready to respond to any and all emergencies in the city. When was the last time you had to hopelessly try to resuscitate someone’s child, or pull charred bodies out of a fire, or be elbows deep in all the different mind scarring scenarios these guys do? yet you sit on your high horse from the safety of your chair and say “I’ve never known of a fireman wiped out over 20years” are you KIDDING? The average career for a fireman paramedic is 7 years due to PTSD and burnout. Firefighters have some of the highest rates of suicide of any profession. St George lost two guys last year from that and they were nowhere near 20 years. Yet you sit there and complain about how they get to go run errands and talk to their significant others while on duty. I don’t care whether you’re for or against this union business, but show some RESPECT to these guys who do what you are too weak or cowardly to do.

  • riccie January 17, 2017 at 9:00 am

    factcheck. If you go to Utahsright.com and check your information that the city of St George submits. It shows a complete different story than what you are saying. AND I might add that is for 2014 wages! It shows how much was pd to wages and how much was pd to benefits. The math is there for 2014. Even though it wasn’t submitted till later in 2015. There have been increases since 2014. Besides What you are saying is not the same as what some of those same employees tell us as friends and neighbors. Ya when you live next to them and associate next to them through sports, hunting, and second jobs, church, etc. They tell a complete different story than what you do even brag and boast about it. Even the wives/girlfriends of them leak information to their dismay.
    For them to report that they are treated unfairly is a slap in the face to the leadership of the fire department. I have known Chief Stoker. He is a good man and has a tremendous responsibility. He has structured a good team of leaders under him. It sound like the lower levels are the ones complaining and crying they are not being treated fairly. The Chief is responsible for everything and everyone EXCEPT wages. I trust him now and have trusted him in the past with my life and well being. Yes I’ve worked with him before and some of the others. I’ve been real impressed. He has always had my well being. And I thank him for that. To bad those of you do not show him the same respect in your own circles.

    • factcheck January 17, 2017 at 10:59 am

      Lmao the truth comes out. Your whole argument “if you do in depth research” is a lie, you’re friends with the management and that’s about it. I give you credit for being loyal to your buddies but that’s all. FYI that website includes insurance benefits and the pension etc as part of their earnings NOT their actual take home so again, you are the one talking about something you know nothing about. I’ve only met chief stoker a handful of times but he seems like a competent, nice person and I’m not slighting him at all, like I said earlier if you had read my post (you chided someone for the same thing earlier) I am not for or against the union or management, I don’t have a dog in this race. How do you know where the complaints are coming from? Which level? Oh wait, you DON’T. You can have your opinion all you want but don’t try to come across as all knowing and at the same time put firefighters down. In one post you say they do a million other things except for work like watch porn, play video games and fix their cars which are all untrue, but if they were then that would fall directly on the leaders’ shoulders (stoker being one) which you just got done defending as being awesome. So which one is it? You can’t have it both ways. Sounds like you and your sources are blaming the bottom guys and guess what? If the little guys are screaming for help, maybe you should listen instead of discarding their complaints as not valid because the higher ups told you so… now I understand exactly why these guys resorted to a union.

  • factcheck January 17, 2017 at 11:27 am

    Haha I meant horse not dog…

  • riccie January 17, 2017 at 5:40 pm

    factchecker;

    You didn’t check the facts at Utahsright.com close enough. Yes it does show complete compensation. However if you would have keyed up anyone of the names on the list and clicked on the name, it would show the complete breakdown. It lists how much went to benefits. How much they were pd as a fire 1 level. How much they were pd as fire 2 level as they progressed in their training, and how much they were pd as fire 3, etc or what else level they have achieved. Please check closer so you can understand better. The truth is there broken down.
    And to let you know I have more friends at the lower levels than at the higher levels. Remember we go hunting, play sports, etc. Our wives work or associate together. Ya I am not in the higher ranks circles. However I do know some of them. Most of them are in the lower ranks.

  • factcheck January 17, 2017 at 7:30 pm

    @riccie keep ignoring all the other huge holes in your arguments and let’s focus on the Utahsrights info. You have volunteers and part timers and full timers. We are talking about full-timers. Yes please do Look at the breakdown, while it states 50-60k, their take home wage is $34,000 or close to it if you scroll down. If you’ve been at the department for years and years then like any job, pay increases add up. But it remains that an entry level/new firefighter full time is making $30k like I said. You’re not the only one that knows firefighters lol. A smaller department like boulder or mesquite, those guys get paid 20-30k MORE for the same job. The truth hurts. I’m pointing out the terrible wages because you made it sound like you wish you could work 80+ extra hours a month for 30k a year and those guys shouldn’t be asking for more. The article said these guys are complaining about other issues not the crappy pay so kudos to them.

  • riccie January 19, 2017 at 9:47 am

    Hey fact…

    Your the one that originally brought up how much $ they made. I just showed how it was broken down. Its to bad that you, and possibly them, do not acknowledge the benefit package they receive. You and they, only talk about the $ amount they receive. The benefit package is one that you and I cannot even purchase through obamacare. Its not available. Health, disability, life, pension. It all adds up to a nice package and great security. Even their wives talk how sweet it is. Not every one gets a benefit package where they work. Have any of them actually gone to the Chief, the city manager, the council or the mayor thanking them for what they do receive? Have you ever gone to any of the city officials and talked about the complete package they receive? Maybe a lot more appreciation is in order.Like I stated the FF themselves talk and so do their wives/girlfriends/others. I have been the recipient of their conversations.

  • factcheck January 19, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    Read my comments, then repeat until your light bulb clicks on…

  • Pinacleexspress January 19, 2017 at 11:20 pm

    Ricci. Where did you go to school and learn how to make an argument? All I see is a bunch of hasty generalizations. To answer statement on why haven’t they taken there concerns to the Chief or City Management, they did and 1 employee was targeted and demoted because he spoke to the Mayor. This was done in City Council meeting where Mayor Pikes forbid the employee to speak about their conversation. Employees were then informed by supervisors that they were not allowed to speak to HR unless they first talk to everyone in the chain of command first. When an employee did approache HR confidentially and as soon as they leave HR office HR is calling the employees supervisor to inform them on who came in. As far as your supposed in depth look into what firefighters do, I have taken several tours with youth groups from ages 7-18 at all three of the full time stations and there is no gaming devices at the station. And how dare you accuse them of watching pornography on duty. How dare you think so little of Chief Stoker that he would allow such behavior under his watch. These firefighters respond to my family and neighbors from Suppressing structure fires to helping an individual off the ground who has fallen and just needs help getting up. These firefighters respond to an avg 17.8 calls a day, along with maintaining 10+ fire apparatus, maintain 8 stations, maintain 6+ certification, business inspections, safety tours for any group who schedule, provide CPR course to all city employees, inspect and maintain AED in each public building. They sacrifice a 1/3 of their time to serve and protect us. In a 20 year career a firefighter will spend 7.5 years away from family with one purpose to drop anything they are working on ,for the city, to respond to assist you on your emergency wether they think it is real emergency or just you think it is. They respond with the same fervour to each and every incident. These firefighters not only respond on duty but off duty and this is not required. They attend training off duty. So what I am trying to say is . SHUT YOUR FN MOUTH!!! unless your going to say” Sorry and Thank You for protecting my family at the risk to yours”

  • Pinacleexspress January 19, 2017 at 11:47 pm

    To answer your statement about how good there benefit package is family health coverage for a family costs $600 a month out of pocket. Not including dental vision or any flex contribution. FYI Firefighters have a 25 year retirement not 20. Firefighters work 20 days a month not 10. They work 6 days in a row then get 3 off. Example. Mon 17 hours, Tues 7, Wed 17 , Thurs 7, Fri 17, SAT 7, SUN off , Mon off, Tues, off. Get your FACT straight.

  • factcheck January 20, 2017 at 5:12 pm

    Mic drop…

  • riccie January 21, 2017 at 7:09 am

    In the Navy we had a saying “Loose Lips Sink Ships”

  • Pinacleexspress January 22, 2017 at 12:28 am

    That’s all you got to say Ricci! All that crap you said about St. George Fire Department and Firefighters, and when your questions are rebudled you say “loose lips”. Keep up the in depth research by talking to a friend, who knows a guy, who has a neighbor, who has brother in-law hunts with
    a firefighter. Stop doing your research by watching ” Rescue Me” and “Chicago Fire” . As far as your argument that firefighters are always talking about how awesome their job is. That just proves to the quality of employees they are. They don’t air the dirty laundry out to everyone who passes by. They smile a say their job is great. I wish I could find an employee who would speak highly of their job even when it is taxing both physically, emotionally and barely paying the bills. If you didn’t have a full time firefighters your home owners insurance would be nearly double. So since an appeal to your humanity doesn’t seem to work maybe an appeal to your pocket book will. If you did serve in the Navy. Thank You for your service. I might hate your views I probably wouldn’t like you as a person but I do appreciate your sacrifice for your service. I would think you could show the same respect to others.

  • riccie January 24, 2017 at 10:39 pm

    Pin;

    Thank You.
    Question how do you know about the FF and HR? Are you a member of the department? If so I appreciate the better insight. Makes it clearer what actually happened than what was informed.
    I do not believe all Firefighters are that way. I suppose a couple bad ones don’t make the whole department bad. No I didn’t get my info from a friend or watching those shows you suggested. These are from actual interaction with FF persons. Like you I also took a youth group to a station and that’s were it also was observed. At other times when I have gone there to conduct other business when things were observed. It leaves a bad image that is remembered. I do know that there are not gaming stations at the various Fire stations there. However, that does not stop one from bringing games, movies, etc with them by their own laptops, I pads, phones etc. Such is what I observed when I went there one day to conduct business. One of your full time persons were playing Farm/Candy Crush and other games while on duty. Another time a movie was playing that was not paused when they left the room on a device, and the Chief and others did not know it was happening because they brought it from home on their personal device. There have been some of them that are real boasting of their work environment like I mentioned earlier. Remember the friends and associations in our community by myself and family members.
    Yes, it was stated that they do not sleep at the stations they sit. However why is there beds in the quarters for them to use? At other times I have walked in and found them sleeping in the reclines. Not every-time but there have been times.
    As far as insurance. At least you have insurance and get your medical needs at a reduced price than the average person that does not have insurance and has to pay the FULL price of everything with no discounts. (That is a subject for another day. How unfair our pricing in the medical world is to those without insurance and how the insurance companies muscle down the pricing for their members compared to those without it). As you mentioned the cost of it, I again ask. How you know this? Are you a member of the department? If so congratulations. You have a better sense of community pride, work ethics, and decency. Thank You for your service and dedication. Like I stated not all of the FF are that bad. Just a couple or so. I hope that they would leave and be replaced with greater character persons like yourself.

Leave a Reply