Philomath Fire & Rescue's Station 201 on Main Street in Philomath. (File photo by Brad Fuqua/Philomath News)

The union representing professional staff members at Philomath Fire & Rescue last week filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the fire district with Oregon’s Employee Relations Board. 

Philomath Firefighters International Association of Fire Fighters Local 4925 in the documentation claims 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 complaint centers on the alleged actions of Miller in the aftermath of his 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. Livability issues were cited as one reason along with the concern that Station 201 — the district’s primary facility on Main Street in Philomath — would be left with inadequate staffing, something Miller has said would not happen.

In addition, the Philomath Fire & Rescue Volunteer Association voiced various 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 unanimously approved a vote of no confidence in the fire chief’s leadership. The volunteer association had a no-confidence vote of 30-1. Prior to those votes, Miller suspended the volunteer association’s top two officers to perform an investigation into their participation in a June 13 board meeting and “continued resistance to provide coverage to Station 202.”

The unfair labor practice complaint details the series of events leading up to a June 29 morning meeting at the fire station, which reportedly included Miller, Deputy Fire Chief Chancy Ferguson and Administrative Assistant Lillee Rodriguez, several volunteer firefighters and union bargaining unit members Capt. Rich Saalsaa and Lt. Scott Moser.

According to the complaint, Miller made statements “designed to intimidate and threaten bargaining unit members in attendance.” In a letter from union attorney Michael Tedesco to fire district attorney Mark Wolf dated the day of the meeting, Miller allegedly said, “You should be willing to die every day you walk in the door here. You should be prepared to die for anyone here” and added that “no one would pull my ass from a burning building” except Ferguson or Rodriguez.

Miller also reportedly brought up a news article at the meeting that included a report on the no-confidence votes by the union and volunteer association while emphasizing that “trust and integrity” are needed in the department. Miller allegedly said the article did damage to the fire department’s reputation and that anyone who didn’t like working there should leave.

According to the complaint, the union responded to the fire chief’s alleged actions with a request that he be placed on immediate administrative leave and that the district investigate the matter in an “attempt to prevent Chief Miller from further threatening and intimidating department members.”

The Philomath Fire & Rescue Board of Directors at a July 5 meeting announced that it was enlisting the Special Districts Association of Oregon (SDAO) to perform two separate actions — a human resources “review of accusations of retaliatory actions” and to bring in a consultant to “review district operations.” Miller was not placed on leave, but was asked to report any significant personnel-related matters during the SDAO reviews to a designated board member.

The union makes various requests in the unfair labor practices filing for the alleged violations, including requiring the district to “cease and desist” in various areas, requiring the distribution of notices of violations by email to bargaining unit members via district email, requiring the fire chief to attend mandatory training on the rights of public employees and paying a civil penalty of $1,000 along with reimbursement for filing fees and legal representation costs.

Miller did not respond to a Philomath News request for comment.

Brad Fuqua, Philomath News

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.

2 replies on “Union files unfair labor practice complaint against fire district”

  1. So in other words, the Fire Chief hurt their feelings. When will Fire Chiefs be able to lead again? This is all over a station they didn’t want to respond to. I believe the two chiefs prior to this they pulled the same thing, votes of no confidence. This will be the 3rd I believe that they aren’t happy with. Pretty insatiable group.

  2. To the best of our knowledge, the Philomath Fire & Rescue Volunteer Association has never – before 2022 – held a vote of no confidence on a chief. We’ve consulted with members that have been part of the department for over 30 years and no such vote has occurred. We want to reiterate that the Association has never opposed the staffing of the Wren Station. Our concerns are focused upon the safety, training, and qualifications of those who respond from the Wren Station. We have been consistent in stating these concerns in our reports to the Philomath Fire Dept Board of Directors and interviews with the Philomath News. We encourage the community to read the minutes from the Board of Directors meetings which are posted online at philomathfire.com.

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