The Philomath Fire & Rescue District and Philomath Firefighters International Association of Fire Fighters Local 4925 reached an agreement on an unfair labor practice complaint that the union had filed in July against the district with the Oregon Employment Relations Board.

The settlement agreement went into effect on Aug. 22 with the signatures of representatives. Both entities will participate in training designed to improve communication and how to respond when such challenges arise.

“This is a very positive outcome for all and will create a stronger working relationship with all members of the team,” said Daphne Phillips, president of the Philomath Fire & District Board of Directors. “I believe this training will help the entire team have stronger communication skills and a better understanding of how to resolve questions and issues in a timely manner as they arise.”

Local 4925 President Andrew Licon said the district reached out to the union with a settlement proposal and there were brief negotiations before the agreement was finalized.

“The union hopes that the district will work with the union in a more proactive manner moving forward,” Licon said. 

Local 4925 in the unfair labor practice complaint claimed several alleged violations of state statutes involving Fire Chief Tom Miller, including threatening and intimidating employees, taking retaliatory action and discriminating against employees by discouraging membership in union activities and employee organizations.

The district, union and Philomath Fire & Rescue Volunteer Association have been at odds over the various components of Miller’s decision to begin staffing the fire district’s Wren substation. Local 4925, which represents five paid staff members, refused to send its members to the station with concerns over livability issues and fear of inadequate staffing in town. The union also voiced concerns related to policies, procedures and staffing that prompted a “tactical pause” — a way to stop the process to be able to further evaluate the change.

Last month, the union and volunteer association passed votes of no confidence in the fire chief’s leadership.

“The ULP was filed due to the district’s response to union actions that are protected by law,” Licon said. “The union still holds the same concerns in regards to safe staffing, response and administration that have previously been raised.”

Miller this week is working at the Rum Creek Fire in southwest Oregon and was not immediately available to comment.

The agreement outlines the following actions:

• The district and union will participate in PECBA (Public Employee Collective Bargaining Act) training that’s offered through the Oregon Employment Relations Board. The district will pay for the cost.

• The district will reimburse the union’s ULP-related costs of $1,800 for an attorney and the filing fee.

• The district agrees “that it is unlawful to interfere with, restrain or coerce employees” and “will not take actions that discriminate against employees in regard to hiring, tenure or any terms or condition of employment for the purpose of discouraging membership in the union.”

• The union agrees to withdraw the complaint.

Phillips expects the training to happen in the near future. 

“The one-day PECBA training will focus on communication and working through issues together effectively and professionally,” Phillips said. “Dates are currently being investigated with the intention to complete the training soon.”

Licon said he’s not familiar with the state program’s training and added that he knows “the subject of the training is around union rights, bargaining rules, etc.”

On another front, there has been no news on the results of the district’s hiring of Special Districts Association of Oregon (SDAO) to complete a human resources “review of accusations of retaliatory actions” and to bring in a consultant to “review district operations.” The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 12.

As far as the unfair labor practices complaint, it appears to now be behind them.

“I am very glad that that district was able to settle the ULP with the union and that the complaint has been withdrawn,” Phillips said.

Said Licon, “I think it is a fair agreement.”

Brad Fuqua has covered the Philomath area since 2014 as the editor of the now-closed Philomath Express and currently as publisher/editor of the Philomath News. He has worked as a professional journalist since 1988 at daily and weekly newspapers in Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, Arizona, Montana and Oregon.