Fire unions fault department, new safety plan

May 17, 2007|By Annie Linskey | Annie Linskey,sun reporter

The Baltimore Fire Department's two unions filed a complaint with the city's labor commissioner yesterday, alleging that the department's new safety initiative ignores contractual agreements and that management has retaliated against union members critical of the fire chief.

"The management of the BCFD is characterized by petulance," says the complaint, which was filed against the mayor and the City Council. The unions filed a similar grievance with the Fire Department yesterday.

The four-page complaint also alleges that the department has improperly subjected a union leader to a drug test, attempted to smear the reputation of union members by leaking confidential information to the media, excluded union members from key meetings, jeopardized safety by underfunding training and allowing inadequate staffing, and poorly managed the fire academy's cadet program.

Rick Binetti, a spokesman for the department, declined to comment. Anthony McCarthy, Mayor Sheila Dixon's spokesman, said the mayor is reviewing the complaint and will formally respond soon.

The presidents of the fire unions, Capt. Stephan G. Fugate and Richard G. Schluderberg, referred questions about the complaint to their attorney, Joel A. Smith, who said the complaint is "a reaction to the unilateralism of Fire Department management."

Smith, who has represented the unions since 1984, said he had never filed this type of a complaint on their behalf before.

Deborah Moore-Carter, the city's labor commissioner, did not return messages seeking comment yesterday.

The complaint is the latest salvo in a bitter back-and-forth between the union leadership and the Fire Department's management.

Although the unions supported Fire Chief William J. Goodwin Jr. when he was appointed in 2002, the relationship soured quickly. It plummeted after the training fire that killed Racheal Wilson, a fire cadet and a mother of two.

Since then, the fire unions have held multiple votes of no confidence in the chief's leadership. The most recent results, announced this week, overwhelmingly opposed Goodwin.

The mayor and the fire chief have brushed off much of the criticism as a natural reaction to the extensive cultural changes they feel the department must undergo to focus on safety in the wake of Wilson's death.

In the complaint, the unions alleged that a May 8 public statement by the chief about his safety initiative "was made unilaterally without first giving notice to and bargaining with the Fire Unions" and therefore violated a duty to "bargain in good faith."

The union presidents said in the complaint that for years they have expressed concerns about "chronic lack of funding, logistics, training and staffing" but that their concerns have been ignored.

They also said in the complaint that the department is refusing to hold required monthly meetings about the management of the department's cadet program and won't bargain with them about "appropriate fitness and agility, and performance standards for the Program." Union officials have often criticized the lack of physical fitness standards as a requirement for joining the academy.

The complaint alleges several examples of retaliation. Union officials say the president of the fire officers union was ordered to undergo an urinalysis without probable cause. Smith said the test was ordered after a terse e-mail exchange with Goodwin.

Another union official was ordered to work at the department's training academy, a traditionally undesirable post, after criticizing it in a meeting with the chief, according to the complaint.

The unions charge that two of their members, battalion chiefs Michael Campbell and Michael Waldener, were excluded from meetings with the chief early this month.

Goodwin, according to the complaint, has asked "community groups" and "voluntary organizations" to oppose the unions. Smith would not provide further details on that charge.

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