PARIS — For the second time in less than a month, the Teamsters Local 340 is filing a complaint against the town of Paris with the Maine Labor Relations Board.
This time it is a bad faith bargaining complaint regarding the per diem firefighters union, according to Lorne Smith, Teamsters Local 340 secretary-treasurer and the bargaining agent for the union.
There are 17 per diems in the union.
Smith accused Town Manager Vic Hodgkins of refusing to answer his questions on Monday, July 10, regarding the future of the Fire Department. That coupled Budget Committee Chairman Rick Little’s Facebook post on the subject and a $145,000 cut to the Fire Department – which passed at June annual town meeting and was seconded by Selectboard Chairman Scott Buffington – are the reasoning behind the newest complaint.
“We met with the town manager yesterday and he refused to answer any questions concerning what the town planned on doing with the fire department,” Smith said in an email. “I wanted to talk about the per diems. Vic refused to speak and left the meeting.”
Smith added he sent the town a 10-day letter demanding to bargain.
“It forces the town to come to the table within the 10 days,” he said, adding he was give dates six to 10 weeks out. “ If they dont comply, they get charged at the Maine Board.”
“Due to sensitivities of the situation and ongoing contract negotiations, I am not going to comment,” Hodgkins said on Tuesday, July 11.
Smith took issue with many statements Little made in his July 4 post on the Oxford Hills, Maine, Town Square Facebook group. In his post, Little spoke of a meeting he had last fall with a “number” of per diem firefighters.
“I was told Brad Frost called them [the Teamsters] and set up the meeting,” Little wrote about the town’s former fire chief who retired last August.
“This is false, it was not Brad Frost the Teamsters spoke with,” Smith said in a written rebuttal to Little’s statement. “Point is the employees called, they voted, The Majority certified the Union.”
Frost agreed it “never happened.”
“I had nothing to do with when they called the union or setting it up. I had nothing to gain by it,” he said.
Frost added he told Little, Hodgkins and Buffington he did not start the union. Little confirmed this encounter with Frost, saying he met with him for two hours last week.
“After 50-plus years in that department, I have to believe Brad,” Little said. “I don’t like the games, the politics and being lied to. To me, if somebody lied to me there is a reason they lied to me.”
Little said he was told the per diems wanted a uniform allowance and more pay and “as the Budget Committee Chair I made sure these demands were in this year’s budget.”
He added even with $145,000 cut to the budget, there is still money in there for these items. His intention was to get rid of the per diem system, go back to an all-volunteer department and cut the fire chief’s annual salary to a $5,000 stipend, plus hourly wages.
“I understand the budget. I left some padding in there,” Little said.
According to Smith, there are three things the per diems have asked for. They are:
- pay similar to surrounding areas.
- a reasonable uniform allowance.
- a consistent form of scheduling, which they are willing to discuss with the town.
“The Firefighters have not asked for any extra benefits, no pension, no healthcare, no Holidays, and they did not ask for full time, or overtime,” Smith wrote. “The employees wanted to negotiate a system for filling shifts as most of them work other jobs. They also wanted a FAIR system for handling call outs when someone canceled a scheduled shift.”
He noted ending the per diem program was not discussed over the past year or so.
“So why the Cut?” Smith asked, noting it was retaliatory. “The cut was made to try and punish the employees for forming a UNION.”
Little said “absolutely not.”
“I am not anti-union, I like lower taxes, I like the mil rate to be lower. … I have an issue with unfunded liabilities in the budget,” he continued. “There is no union hatred here. … I went from not in favor of them to if we’re stuck with them, then let’s support them.”
Little added he was a member of the Teamsters for five or six years.
Smith accused Little and other people who speak against the Fire Department on the Facebook group of being bullies who will “attack anyone that disagrees with them.”
“Take a look at their website and then ask why employees choose a Union, the Union is there to protect employees from such people,” he added.
Little said there are many opposing sides on the Town Square page.
“It does seem like the people who don’t live here are pro-Fire Department. I have seen very few people in the town of Paris pushing for this,” Little said. “It is our money, it is our town. I don’t understand why people who don’t live in this town can dictate what happens in this town.”
The first complaint the Teamsters filed with the Maine Labor Relations Board was for prohibitive practice in June. This was regarding changing the per diems’ schedule while the union and town are in the middle of negotiations.
“Also while the negotiations are taking place the Town is to maintain the ‘Status Quo’ while negotiations are ongoing. That is State of Maine Law,” Smith said.
“The Union also offered to withdraw the charge if the Town would leave the employees alone until we negotiated a schedule. This meant the employees would not receive overtime but could work the hours they had over the previous years.”
Since there was a move to get rid of the per diems structure, the second complaint was filed.
Hodgkins did not have a total cost thus far for union negotiations for the per diems. But for the month of May, attorney fees on that subject were $6,836. He expects another bill for the month of June during the latter part of next week.
At town meeting, voters allocated $20,000 for legal services. The Teamsters are also in mediation with the Police Department and Administration unions. Smith reported having issues negotiating with all three bargaining units.
“We have met multiple times on all units and we have nothing,” he said, adding he sent 10-day letters for all three unions.