Pubdate: Fri, 16 Mar 2007
Source: Yakima Herald-Republic (WA)
Copyright: 2007 Yakima Herald-Republic
Author: Mark Morey, staff writer
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


Echoing their police counterparts, Yakima firefighters  Thursday
strongly rejected a city contract proposal  that would have required
random drug testing.

Fire union president Ron Johnson did not release vote  totals, but he
said the city's contract offer was  turned down by a 3-1 margin. All
but one or two of the  80 represented firefighters cast ballots.

Johnson said he wants to meet with firefighter members  to gauge their
reasons for turning down the package,  which would have covered 2007
through 2009.  Firefighters will continue to work under the existing 
contract for the time being.

The city has proposed increasing the base pay for  firefighters by an
average of about 12 percent over the  life of the contract, but
firefighters would receive no  pay raise in 2007. Citing financial
constraints, the  city has declared that it will seek to freeze all
union  wage increases for this year.

The actual dollar cost for the fire contract was not  immediately

Neither Johnson nor Fire Chief Dennis Mayo directly  attributed the
firefighters' rejection to the request  for random testing.

"There were no great rumblings that drug testing was  the reason or
that it was wages. I think it might be a  combination that we have to
work out and get settled up  with the city," Johnson said.

Likewise, the police union listed wages and drug  testing among 17
reasons that they declared a  bargaining impasse in August.

If the random tests are approved, Yakima would become  the first of
the state's largest cities to impose that  standard on its police or
firefighters, officials say.

Police Chief Sam Granato, backed by the city manager  and council
members, began pushing for random drug  testing of police officers two
years ago, saying it was  necessary to protect the public. Mayo
quickly agreed.

The fire chief said Thursday that he doesn't believe  the city will
back away from the proposal in order to  pass the contracts with
emergency service employees.

So far, the three-year contract has been approved by  two bargaining
units represented by the International  Association of Firefighters.
Those units, totalling  about 20 employees, include emergency
dispatchers,  9-1-1 calltakers and the fire department's mechanics 
and electronics staff.

Ballots were not back yet from the fourth IAFF unit,  which is made up
of two battalion chiefs.

Johnson said he expected to return to the negotiating  table at least
one more time. If necessary, mediation  and then arbitration would
follow in order to secure an  agreement.

Mayo said he will try to educate the firefighters as  completely as
possible about both the drug testing and  proposed changes in
discipline procedures, which would  incorporate management of
personnel cases into the  contract instead of bringing most of those
matters  before the city's civil service commission.

"Much to the credit of the firefighters, they are  looking at it in a
professional manner," Mayo said.  "It's complex and it's breaking new
ground, and I think  they are just being cautious. E Those are the
obstacles  we have to climb up against."

The police union has most vocally contested Granato's  campaign on
several grounds. Although their attorney  questions the overall
legality of random testing under  the state constitution, union
officials say they aren't  convinced the city's testing plan would
offer enough  safeguards against unfair testing or false results.

Granato said he's willing to address those concerns.

However, police union president Bob Hester said his  review of the
contract language for firefighters showed  it was more lenient than
that offered to his members.

Granato said he hadn't seen the firefighter rules.

"The difference is that they aren't charged with  enforcing the law,
and we are. I think we have to have  higher expectations," Granato

Detailed drug-testing language for either contract has  not been made

Existing contracts allow city officials to test for  drug use only
when they have reasonable suspicion, such  as slurred speech.

The police union offered a reasonable-suspicion policy  that Hester
said would have strengthened protections  for both officers and the
city, but Granato said it  didn't do enough.

Saying they know that safety is paramount, union  officials argue that
the current system has dealt with  the handful of drug cases that have
arisen in the past  few years. Granato agrees the problem isn't
widespread,  but he wants a way to catch violators before they  create
liability concerns for the city.

Contract talks for police aren't expected to resume  until June,
nearly two years after negotiations began.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin