South Whidbey firefighters unionize

Part-time South Whidbey Fire/EMS firefighters formed the organization’s first-ever firefighter union last spring.

Fire commissioners are expected to approve an agreement with the newly formed union at the Dec. 12 meeting.

Negotiations began in August, said Fire Chief Rusty Palmer.

Palmer presented a draft three-year contract to commissioners last week for approval. Commissioner Adrienne Hawley said she did not have enough time to review the agreement before last week’s meeting and said she’d felt largely in the dark about most of the negotiations.

Hawley said during a board meeting last week that she’d hardly heard about the negotiations until she received a proposed contract in her meeting materials the week prior.

“At the core of it, I desire more conversation to happen in open public meetings,” she said in an interview.

The agreement is a big step for the organization, she said, and it “should not be rushed.” Hawley also said she’d requested information regarding recruitment and retention from district administration but had been “met with a lot of silence.”

Commissioners and Palmer met for a workshop on the budget and agreement last Thursday, but Hawley could not attend because of a death in the family. Commissioners decided to table the agreement decision until the regular December meeting.

The district completed its budget with the assumptions that the contract is agreed upon, Palmer said.

“We can always take it out,” he said.

The district plans to hold another workshop on the contract in early December.

Many of the provisions in the contract include best practices identified by the International Association of Fire Fighters for handling employee grievances, compensations and vacation, Palmer said. There are 10 members of the union, with eight part-time firefighters and two full-time maintenance workers.

Robert Husom, a local union representative, said the members have ratified the contract and “anticipate a favorable outcome” at the December meeting.