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Uneasy Negotiations - ORFD Labor Group Concerns

POSTED October 4, 2011 9:24 p.m.

Upon the heels of Oakdale Rural Fire Protection District Chief Lee Winton’s two-year term ending, negotiations have begun to bring on Steve Mayotte, Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District Chief, on a limited, part-time basis as an administrative chief to Oakdale’s rural district but the rural fire company’s labor group members have been vocal in their concern.
The proposal on the table is for Mayotte to commit roughly 20 hours a week to the administrative tasks inherent to a rural fire chief’s position at a cost of $41,500 that would be paid to the Riverbank district, not to Mayotte.
Although initially, it was suggested that Mayotte, who has been the Riverbank chief since 2005, would receive a bump in his salary for the additional work, now any money received will go directly into Consolidated’s coffers.
There is also a cap of 12 months and a 30-day out clause included in the contract.
Rob Hoyer, president of the Oakdale Rural Firefighter’s Association Local #4451, along with vice president Jered Eckle voiced their main concerns with Mayotte coming on board, saying the fact that Mayotte has an active lawsuit and 22 grievances filed against him, has the represented employees uneasy.
“We understand that we don’t have the right to say you can’t hire a manager,” Eckle said. “But we’re seeing trouble signs out there and we don’t want the board to feel rushed into something.”
Hoyer and Eckle stressed that it isn’t an “Us” vs. “Them” attitude but negotiations have become tense as both sides remain strong in their reasoning.
“We should not feel afraid to share information with the board,” Hoyer said. “We want it to be an open communication.”
But troubles have been brewing between the labor group and the board for some time, culminating in the recent decision to exercise the 60-day out clause in regards to the joint engine contract between Oakdale City Fire and the rural district. Troubles that Eckle and Hoyer claim have been swept under the proverbial rug but can no longer be ignored.
In addition to the contentious issues surrounding the joint engine contract, the labor group is now struggling with the former fire chief Winton’s recommendation to put Mayotte at the helm in the interim until different arrangements can be made.
It’s a short-term fix — which is exactly what makes the employees leery, said Hoyer.
“We don’t want a permanent Band-Aid,” Eckle said.
Given the fact that negotiations have come to a standstill regarding the joint engine contract and the labor group’s decision to put the 60-day out clause into effect, both Hoyer and Eckle stated the employees are mistrustful of anything packaged as “short-term” because of what they’ve endured thus far under the same assurance.
“We can’t even put our hands on what it would look like,” Eckle said of the decision to fracture the rural department further. “We’re riding on engines that don’t have our names on them, working in stations that aren’t ours, and now we’re going to have a chief that’s with a Riverbank station? Where does it end? We want to make sure we have a voice at the table with everything that’s going on.”
Hoyer added, refuting the claim that the rural district is clinging to stubborn pride, saying, “Pride is not the issue. We’re way past that by now. There’s been a communication disconnect. We’re being pulled in so many different directions. There are a lot of little issues that have finally festered. We’re hitting the reset button as a union so we can get through this initial thought process. This is monumental in our lives when it comes to who’s going to run the department.”
When it comes to Mayotte, it doesn’t matter what issues Mayotte is facing in his own department — the very fact that there are issues at all is concerning.
“We don’t really care what the issues are — just that there are concerns,” Eckle said.
Hoyer chimed in, saying, “Our biggest issue is reestablishing good communication with the board. We want to meet these challenges together. We need to explore other options.”
For his part, Mayotte — who is two years and counting from retirement — is aware of the concerns raised by the labor group, saying, “It’s not unusual anymore for employees to file grievances and votes of no confidence against decisions the chiefs have made.
“I understand where the personnel is coming from when change is concerned but this is a stop-gap measure,” Mayotte said. “I agreed to do it because it helps the partnership move forward. In the short-term, it’s the right thing to do.”
Mayotte detailed in the plainest terms the rural district has three options on the table: the possibility of a Cal Fire contract; the possibility of a Local Agency Contract between the three fire agencies (Stanislaus Consolidated, Oakdale City Fire, and Oakdale Rural); and the possibility of doing nothing at all.
And the option of doing nothing? Not really a feasible option.
“The current economic climate has not been kind to any of the three agencies,” Mayotte said. “And the next few years are going to continue to be a challenge.”
Which leaves the Cal Fire proposal, which many in the rural district are pining their hopes on as the most viable and sustainable option, and a Local Agency Contract as the most realistic options available to the district.
Mayotte said he felt confident he could balance his duties as the Stanislaus Consolidated chief with the additional burden of Oakdale Rural, but the rural labor group remains apprehensive.
“I come in early and work long hours anyway,” Mayotte said. “It seems feasible at this time. I might have to reevaluate as the time goes on but it shouldn’t be so dissimilar that I don’t know what I’m doing.”
Mayotte added, “You know, helping out your neighbors is the right thing to do. It would be easier for me to remain the consolidated chief — I’m not jumping up and down at the prospect of more work — but it’s the right thing to do.”
The next Oakdale Rural Fire Protection District board meeting will be held Oct. 18 at Station 1 (1398 E. F St.) at 10 a.m.

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