By Amanda Ensinger
At a recent Franklin Township board meeting, officials debated how to proceed with upcoming contract negotiations with the fire union.
“We have less than two months to negotiate contracts,” said Aryeh Alex, trustee. “We need to setup meetings with union representatives to discuss any issues. We need to start setting up a negotiating committee, so we have plenty of time to work on this.”
Franklin Township Fiscal Officer Mary Rhinehart said the township has a number of things to consider before forming a committee.
“One of the issues we need to consider is that the head of the department is negotiating when they would benefit from the contract,” Rhinehart said. “I suggest we have a negotiating attorney help. We did put it in the budget and that person would have expertise. It would then be a non-biased negotiation and we would have someone who understands the law help facilitate. We are going to have to have a tough conversation, so going this route makes the most sense.”
This idea did not sit well with Alex, who said bringing an attorney in to lead the negotiation is a waste of money.
“There is no way I’m going to pay a ball-busting attorney $30,000 to screw over our hardworking firefighters,” Alex said. “I understand how to negotiate our contact and we can have our attorney review it. It makes no sense to bring an additional firm in here. We would be spending resources that could go to the firefighters.”
Rhinehart argued that those specific comments are why the township needs an unbiased third party to lead these conversations, not a trustee who seemingly favors the union over the township’s best interest. She also said she had concerns about the amount of pay offered to firefighters after reviewing past union contracts. She said what has been offered is above average when looking at the size of the department.
“That is malarkey. Our firefighters are some of the lowest paid,” Alex said. “They haven’t had raises in a decade. I should not get attacked by a fiscal officer and have to step up and defend our firefighters.”
Rhinehart said this reaction further proves why they need to hire a third party attorney.
“I believe we are not having unbiased negotiations,” she said. “As you (Alex) clearly just demonstrated.”
Trustees John Fleshman and Ralph Horn said this will be a tough negotiation.
“This is definitely the kind of situation that could result in hard feelings,” Horn said. “I have been through several of them and it is never popular when there has to be concessions. We would have people on the negotiating committee that could be viewed as biased toward one party or the other. We really need to do things according to the law.”
Fleshman said the arguing is already setting up for a less than ideal experience.
“It seems like right out of the gate, it is going to be a negative thing,” he said. “If we are not paying them enough and had a non-biased person suggest more pay, that could be a good thing for the union. I don’t know why we are assuming the worst right away about using an attorney.”
Rhinehart said that the fiscal department needs to be a part of these conversations as the fire department takes up a large portion of the township’s budget.
“The fire department is more than 50 percent of our budget,” she said. “When you are talking about $5-or-$6 million, we need to have fiscal and budgetary input.”
The board decided to table the conversation until a later date.