Collective bargaining meetings are exempt from the “Sunshine Law.” These are contract negotiation meetings that are closed to the public and not televised. County Fire Rescue (HCFR) Chief Scott Hechler introduced the agreement that he and his staff have been working on for close to a year. It was approved unanimously by the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) at the regular January 14, 2020 meeting.
Hechler called Deputy Chief Kevin Carroll and Union Representative Sean Moulton to present the agreement to the BOCC. “We stand together,” Hechler said.
The highlights of the agreement are the institution of random drug testing, and suspension of the “Step Plan” for firefighter compensation beginning in October 2020, using a Performance Management Plan (PMP) instead, which assigns raises on the following schedule:
“Non-Topped Out Employees” are those who have not reached maximum compensation. These employees will receive a percentage increase based on an evaluation score of 3.00 or higher. Those employees whose first pay period after their annual review will be in October of 2020 will receive a 4.0% pay increase. A 3.75% increase will apply to employees whose first pay period is in October of 2021.
More senior employees may be “Topped Out,” or approaching the maximum allowed salary. Those employees will receive a 2.5% increase beginning in October of 2020, following the annual review.
The overall savings for the county is predicted to be about 3%.
Hechler added that he and his staff also looked at about 50 other articles of the agreement.
“We went through all of them and we tried to find a place that was common sense from a labor perspective as well as from management perspective…” Taking into consideration services to citizens, the sustainability of finances for 2020 and beyond, as well as firefighter safety and training, Hechler said, “I believe we came up with a very good document.”
According to Hechler, the department will also save over $1-million in overtime costs.
The initiation of drug testing ostensibly falls under department safety. Hechler said of the testing, “That's very important for us, because it's important that we model ourselves to who we say we are … we're here as servants of the public and so we need to make sure that our people are safe when they provide service to the citizens out there.”
Commissioner Wayne Dukes, a former Federal Fire Chief said, “Firefighters are always in danger. They're only as good as the weakest guy going in with (them) ... Putting this in the contract is a big step forward for the county.”
Commissioner Steve Champion commended Hechler and his staff on the overall success of the agreement, saying, “Both sides didn't get what they wanted but there was some kind of negotiation and the benefactor here is a taxpayer.”