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Palm Coast Firefighters Unionize, Citing Unbalanced Treatment of Employees

| August 17, 2010

palm coast fire fighters Union: Yes. (© FlaglerLive)

Union: Yes. (© FlaglerLive)

Palm Coast’s 60 rank-and-file firefighters held a union vote in July, with 40 to 45 firefighters opting to form a union. The firefighters have their on local under the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). Curiously, the unionization has not been announced by Palm Coast City Manager Jim Landon to the city council, at least not publicly.

“The union is in place,” Jason Laughren, a lieutenant with the Palm Coast Fire Department, said on Tuesday. The union doesn’t yet have collective bargaining powers with the city. It’s working through the Public Employees Relations Commission to reach that point, pending a hearing involving the union and city management. It’s not a given that the commission will grant collective bargaining authority to the union, but it usually does.

Increasing pay or benefits is not at issue. The firefighters decided to unionize over two other issues, Laughren said: job security and the inequitable treatment of employees following disciplinary action. Some employees were treated differently than others, depending on their relationship with management, Laughren said. With a union in place, such things as disciplinary rules would be standardized and gray areas enabling favoritism eliminated.

“It doesn’t make any difference to me,” Palm Coast Fire Chief Mike Beadle said. “It is what it is, if this is what the guys want to do.”

Laughren said firefighters have “a very good working relationship with the chief,” who’s maintained an open-door policy throughout his tenure even as the department has grown quickly. The unionization effort stemmed more from issues with city management, and particularly City Manager Jim Landon, who “treated some past employees unfavorably,” Laughren, who’s been with the department just under five years, said. “With his past practices, I wouldn’t put it past him to fire us–two or three of us.” He added: “So far we haven’t had any retaliation. That doesn’t mean there won’t be.” The atmosphere at the department is somewhat tense at the moment.

Landon did not respond to questions about the contention of unfair treatment or the council’s awareness of the unionization effort.

One of the issues in play at the moment is who would be included in the union. The existing union wants the department’s 15 lieutenants to be included. The city wants to exclude them. Managerially, that would create a wedge between the rank-and-file and the lieutenants, who nevertheless work on the line with firefighters and spend all their on-duty time with them in the firehouse. Should the city succeed in keeping lieutenants separate from the rank and file, lieutenants are likely to form their own union, essentially forcing the city to deal with two unions instead of one.

Unions generally have a rough time establishing themselves at first: workers organize secretly, for fear of retribution, despite legal provisions that ostensibly protect unionizing activities. Management in companies or state or local government agencies, who have retaliatory tools at the ready, while pledging compliance with the law, typically pressure or intimidate employees against unionizing. Retaliation is easier before a union — and a collective bargaining agreement — is in place.

“In reality a union isn’t going to affect the department. It’s going to make us better,” Laughren said. “As we grow we can help the chief solve problems.”

Flagler County’s firefighters are also unionized, though Richard Bennett, president of that union, is not involved in Palm Coast firefighters’ efforts. “It’s their deal,” Bennett said, “they’re working on it. I’m simply there as a support group for them.”

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19 Responses for “Palm Coast Firefighters Unionize, Citing Unbalanced Treatment of Employees”

  1. cyd weeks says:

    Good for them. Now they can’t have happen to them what happened to those in the sewer/drainage department….which seemed to miss the papers by the way. I support them whole heartedly.

  2. cmore says:

    If this unifies their efforts and accomplishes those things mentioned in this article then I say how about it. I wonder though as per the article why the city manager hasn’t spoken about it. No worries I’m sure those boys will work things out. The citizens of Palm Coast applaud the resolution and look forward to hearing all the outcomes big or small. We all here in Quail hollow section support them as well.

  3. wsh@302msn says:

    good news now they have a chance of getting a 10% raise like lando got . i have no problem paying additional taxes for law enforcement and fire protection

  4. Robert says:

    These men and women need protection against being arbitrarily dismissed by upper town management.
    Florida is a Right to Work State and most employers’ operate on the At Will Employment principle.
    Both are different principles but have similar effects on labor, low pay and dismissal at will.
    Union protection is something all workers should have.
    Right to Work usually means right to pay less and At Will employment means you can be terminated at any time and for any or no reason.

  5. H Peter Stolz says:

    In my whole working career I was an “AT Will” employee. It means I apparently did the job I was paid for and did it well enough so my bosses didn’t decide they didn’t need me. What’s wrong with that for ALL employees, feferal, state, county, city and private industry?

  6. Dorothea says:

    Peter, in a perfect world where employers pay their workers a fair salary and provide a safe work environment and do not force workers to work less than 30 a week to avoid paying benefits, and promote their employees by ability and seniority, not family and political connections, and, are even handed when dispensing disciplinary action, we would not need unions. You must live in a perfect world. Unfortunately, most of us do not.

  7. Jordyn says:

    The City Manager has the ability to hire and fire individual firemen? Seems like the fire chief or his appointees would be in charge of the hiring and firing. Why don’t we skip the union and get a new City Manager instead?

  8. Palm Coaster says:

    It’s about time someone stood up to the iron fist of Landon. He runs this city like Nazi Germany. Unions are a good thing, but Florida hates them. Right to work state bullcrap.
    Landon needs to hit the highway, but he sleeps with the city commission who are nothing more then old farts without a life.

  9. wifeof says:

    I think the City Manager should voluntarily take a pay cut to show that he’s not the Bone Head that everyone knows he is, I think the city should take the “money owed/now collected” and instead of blowing it on a new building, buy one of the several shopping centers that are now in foreclosure – utilizing the space they need and allowing fellow businessmen to continue operating their businesses and supporting their families and I think the consistent and constant “poo poo stirrers” within the FD that are now jeopardizing the jobs of newly hired men who uprooted their families to make a new start here in PC…the ones that can NEVER compromise and started all of this for the sake of starting a fight because they get all squirrely inside and don’t need the companionship of their wives while their conducting their “rodeo show” of BS, need to be fired. It’s a right to work state, let those that are willing to work through this and compromise, keep their jobs and the ones that only seek redemption for an offense that was never committed….spend more time on the golf course, draining the wife’s paycheck. If you have that much time on your hands, use it wisely, there are families out there that can’t feed their kids, soup kitchens are always looking for free help.

  10. Bob Dylin says:

    Sounds like you could put wifeof”s entire post to a Bob Dylin song. (only the older guys will get that)

  11. concerned citizen says:

    WOW sounds like someone needs to learn a little about unions before they go spouting off about things they obviously know nothing about. I’m not sure that a PUBLIC FORUM is the place to broad cast things that you have no idea about.

  12. jimmythebull says:

    the city wants to have its own police dept. at a cost of 30 million more to us.
    flagler county sheriffs are the best i ever saw.
    imo palm coast does not need to give out more coffee and donut jobs to their friends and relatives.
    did any one notice that the city officials are obese ?
    is there a legal way we can vote to have palm coast reversed to not being a city like it was before?

  13. concerned citizen says:

    Who said anything about a police department? I thought this article was about Firefighters becoming unionized?

  14. wifeof says:

    And therein lies the problem…@concerned citizen….a very small group of you (very small) have made this all about you. You’ve turned this into your own personal agenda – hiding behind the guise of a “union”. And if you knew anything about how the union operates you wouldn’t be in the position you are in before you are even in a place to argue your position. Let me put this in terms that might make sense to you: Your chip shot was not well played, and you’re still left with a knee knocker for par.

  15. Joe A. says:

    I am disappointed in the level of intelligence or lack there of when it comes to this article. This article was to inform citizens of changes within a city municipality. Rather then engage in an intelligent debate about our feelings on the subject matter, it seems others are taking it to a personal level. From an outside looking in, I am very much turned off not by the article but by the comments. I am of the mindset that “we don’t air our dirty laundry”. Obviously some here disagree. I really do not understand the whole golf references and why it is implied here at all. It seems personal and malicious. This here is not the forum for that. Keep your malice and ill will out of the public forums. This forum is here for citizens who are concerned and wish to discuss a topic like adults. That applies to this thread and all future threads. A respectful exchange will go a lot further then a malicious one. As far as the actual subject matter goes, I am not surprised. People are outraged at elected officials to begin with. Why is it no different here? Public employees are angered at the level of performance of the elected officials. People have a right to complain and voice their concerns, even if at the time it seems unpopular.

  16. agree joe says:

    I could not agree more with the last comment. Reading the comments are very concerning and make me believe that even adults can be infantile (especially the “wifeof” comments). Sounds like some have WAY too much time on their hands. Keep your dirty laundry out of the public forum.

  17. concerned citizen says:

    I am very happy to see the support that is coming from the community! Thank you very much its nice to see that the people that we serve still care.

  18. disappointed says:

    Seems like wifeof struck a nerve with you boys. She called out concerned citizen – who just admitted in his last comment that he is indeed a firefighter, therefore confirming my suspicions. This forum, with the exception of one, maybe two others is nothing more than firefighters leaving comment after comment under pseudo names. It’s not okay for wifeof to dispute the union but it’s okay for Palm Coast Firefighters to bash city officials and refer to the city manager as a Nazi. Practice what you preach, this is about the fire department getting a union, if you have to ridicule city officials than obviously wifeof is not the only one that who has too much time on her hands.

  19. concerned citizen says:

    I doubt that most of the posters are firefighters. Just because I implied that I was a firefighter doesn’t mean that I work for Palm Coast, there are hundreds of firefighters that live in Flagler county that are retired and / or work elsewhere. I also don’t think ANYONE called any city official a Nazi. I too believe that “dirty laundry” should not be aired in a public forum. JMO…

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