Havre Daily News - News you can use

By Alex Ross 

Arbiter rules against fire department in grievance


December 12, 2016

A Havre firefighter said he is glad an arbiter ruled in his favor, saying the fire department improperly kept him from promotion.

“I’m very grateful for the arbiter’s decision,” firefighter D.J. Olson said in a text message Saturday. “It was a long, unnecessary and expensive process to the union and the city that could have been avoided.”

Though he did not say why, Olson said he believes the city’s actions were retaliatory and that the arbitration decision supports that.

Havre Fire Chief Tim Hedges declined this morning to comment onthe decision.

The arbiter, LeRoy Schramm, said in his written decision that Olson, a driver-operator at the fire department should be appointed to the engineer position with seniority and paygrade purposes as of the date of the departments's posted March retest.

The difference between what he would have made as an engineer and what makes in his current position should also be paid to Olson from March 2016 to the present, Schramm’s decision says.

The grievance was filed against the city by the Havre chapter of the International Association of Firefighters in February. The grievance alleges that the city violated its own policy on promotions for captains and engineers by making Olson wait a year rather than 30 days to retake a test he did not pass Dec. 28, 2015.

The union also contended the city further violated its policy when Olson, who was otherwise qualified, should have been temporarily appointed to the position for six months, since he was the only individual who took the test.

If at the end of that probationary Olson were to meet all the requirements except the testing, the testing requirement would be waived, the decision and city policy say.

The decision said the city used language in part of its promotion policy that said the results of a promotion test will remain in effect for a period of one year and that Olson was not qualified for temporary appointment because he had not passed the test less than a year earlier.

Olson retook and passed the test in September of this year.

Schramm said in his decision that because of that, the arbitration was, essentially, over a moot point.

“Under these circumstances, it would have been desirable if the parties had resolved the matter themselves,” he wrote in his decision.

Cody McLain, grievance committee chair for the union, said Saturday that the decision was still relevant. He said that had the union not filed a grievance, it could have set a precedent where those who did not pass the test would have to wait an entire year to retest.

“That would have been devastating to our youthful fire department,” McLain said.

Olson also would not have received a year’s worth of higher wages that he should have received from the engineer position, McLain added.

In his decision, Schramm said a section in the promotion policy which said those who do not pass the test can retake the test after 30 days appears before another section which said that the results of the test remain in effect for one year.

Schramm said that testimony from the arbitration hearing indicated that the language on a 30-day waiting period had been adopted in 2001. Before that the tests were given once a year whether there were openings for a captain or engineer. Applicants would have to take the test one year, and the results would stand for one year if a position came open.

A list was developed to fill openings that became available in the months after a test was given, the decision said. No distinction was made between passing and failing tests.

“A test was only given once a year so any result, positive or negative, remained in effect for the entire year, with the list of successful applicants compiled to deal with mid-year openings,” the decision says.

City policy also says that if no applicant qualifies during the time of testing for captain or engineer positions, the top-rated applicant after testing shall be given temporary appointment to that rank and the pay for that rank.

The union says that because Olson was the only one who had taken the test, he was the top applicant and should have received a temporary appointment.

The decision says that the city’s position ignores the purpose of the language on temporary appointments to appoint individuals who are not otherwise qualified and will not meet all of the qualifications.


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