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Firefighter Union negotiations put on hold

(Jackson, Wyo.) - Teton County and Town of Jackson elected officials have canceled today’s special meeting with the valley’s recently created firefighters union in light of newly discovered legal complexities regarding unions in Wyoming. According to a release issued by Teton County this morning, Deputy County Attorney Keith Gingery said an article in the Sunday Gillette News Record -- which was brought to his attention Monday morning – discussed union negotiations in Campbell County. The article referred to a Wyoming Attorney General’s written opinion from November of 2015 that sought to clarify what constitutes a paid member of a fire department for the purposes of a collective bargaining unit – or union -- of firefighters. According to the Wyoming Attorney General, volunteer firefighters -- who in addition to limited benefits, receive a small stipend when attending training and responding to calls for service -- are considered paid members of a fire department. Therefore, their numbers must be included in the majority of employees who must approve the selection of an organization to represent them in collective bargaining talks. In Jackson and Teton County, the firefighters union – International Association of Fire Fighters Local 5067 – was established in the fall of 2015 by a majority vote of only the full-time paidfirefighters. Jackson Hole Fire/EMS Chief Willy Watsabaugh said there are another 100-plus volunteers and part-time employees. Gingery advised against moving forward with negotiations until the union has a chance to decide whether to include other local firefighters in their union, in part to avoid the problem of a volunteer suing for having been disenfranchised from the process. Commissioners voted unanimously Monday afternoon to cancel the Tuesday meeting and cease current negotiations. Soon after the Board of Commissioners’ vote, the matter also went before the Jackson Town Council. Councilors also voted unanimously to cease negotiations. “If the Wyoming Attorney General’s opinion means that a fire union must include the volunteer firefighters, we have to consider that,” Board of County Commissioners Chair Barbara Allen said. “The volunteer component of our Fire/EMS is incredibly important and provides this community with a huge benefit. We must consider that continuing discussions in the face of that opinion disenfranchises the volunteer members.” County Commissioners’ Administrator Alyssa Watkins and Town Administrator Bob McLaurin both stated that ceasing the collective bargaining process for now wouldn’t preclude the ability for firefighters and local government officials to continue working through some of the issues that had been raised in negotiations. “We will continue to work with our Town of Jackson partners and continue to support and encourage positive and productive working relationships where concerns can be brought forward and discussed in a professional and respectful manner,” Watkins said. Several county commissioners and town councilors voiced their appreciation for the time and effort that had gone into collective bargaining meetings to date, as well as for the work the Fire/EMS team does on behalf of the community. “We have had three good meetings, and we thank them for their professionalism throughout recent discussions,” Allen said. “We want them to know that we appreciate all that they do for our community. We support them and acknowledge their dedication and commitment.” #buckrail #news