fire stuf

We’ve long known there are some people who would like to see unions weakened in Oregon and others would like to see unions strengthened. Take a look at the recent state labor board decision for the Crook County Fire and Rescue District.

The dispute between the district and its firefighters union may be considered by some as fuel for both arguments. But the concern for the community must be that the tensions between the district and the union don’t spill over into fire and rescue work.

The decision was clear. The Oregon Employment Relations Board found the district interfered with the union. That is against the law. The board ordered the district to stop its violations, expunge some records from personnel files and let employees know about the board’s decision. You can read the decision for yourself at the board’s website, www.oregon.gov/erb.

For instance, one thing the district did was to start using a third-party investigator to conduct more formal investigations of allegations against employees.

Should that be a violation of the law? Couldn’t it be an improvement in the way such matters are handled? Yes, it could.

But in this decision it also had to do with how the district did it. When employees asked why the investigations were being handled differently, they were told words to the effect of — because of the union.

It’s not a groundless explanation. It is accurate. The change was made because of the union. But it is an ill-advised, simple explanation and apparently supervisors didn’t make an attempt to correct any misimpression. The board’s decision argued that explanation was one thing that gave employees a reasonable belief that they were subject to heightened scrutiny because of the union.

The district also used a third-party investigator only in cases involving officers of the union. That certainly didn’t help appearances.

The most worrisome part of the dispute could be whatever tensions remain between management and workers at the Crook County Fire and Rescue District. The union sent out a statement saying: “In most professions a lack of trust simply results in a loss of revenue, however, in law enforcement or the Fire/EMS service, a lack of trust can lead to catastrophic effects, including loss of life.” Both management and the union must ensure that is not allowed to happen.

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