The Woodburn Fire District is reporting improved communications and morale after a lengthy contract negotiation and intervention process that concluded this summer.

Negotiations had stalled for a 21-month period due in part to an arbitration dispute between the district and the former shop steward, among other issues, but a decision by the district’s lieutenants to join the collective bargaining unit resulted in an agreement.

Firefighters had been working without a contract since June 30, 2012. Prior to the agreement, which covers the period from July 1, 2012 through June 30, 2016, firefighters and lieutenants had been working under separate agreements that paid wages and benefits differently, said Jon Koenig, a firefighter and shop steward.

“We ended up bringing lieutenants into the bargaining unit,” Koenig said. “It made for a more cohesive group.”

Prior to the agreement, firefighters were not being compensated for additional duties that they were performing, including supervisory duties, Koenig said. They also were getting paid less for overtime than non-union members, he said.

With the agreement, Woodburn’s nine firefighters and three lieutenants are now part of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1660.

Chris Tompkins, secretary for Local IAFF 1660, was the lead union negotiator throughout the dealings.

“The process was cumbersome,” he said. “It was difficult at times. It is still to be determined what the outcomes will be, but I am positive that we can have a great working relationship with management moving forward.”

Deeply ingrained issues of miscommunication and unfairness surfaced during the negotiation process, said Paul Iverson, chief of the Woodburn Fire District.

“Like all organizations, we have conflicts,” Iverson said. “The hard part was recognizing that we had problems and I appreciate (Koenig’s) willingness to come forward. It took a long time to get the contract done, but we dealt with some serious issues that had festered.”

Contract negotiations had stalled earlier this year as the former shop steward, Joe Jacobucci, had been dismissed and then later reinstated.

According to a mediator’s report, Jacobucci had played a strong role in demanding investigation of sexual harassment claims within the department. He also had broken departmental rules that led to his firing. But in March an arbitrator determined his actions were not sufficient grounds for dismissal, ruling that his union role played a part in the firing.

As a result of the dispute, the district and union set up a framework for future negotiations, Koenig said.

After the two groups reached a tentative agreement and the lieutenants came to the bargaining unit, union and district leaders agreed to an intervention from the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the International Association of Firefighters who sat down with the entire fire district staff, Koenig said.

“They helped us deal with some very serious issues,” he said. “Dealing with those issues helped us to effectively move forward.”

Sustained improvements will take work, including a six-month follow-up early next year.

“We have made a commitment to creating a more positive environment,” Iverson said.

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