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Firefighters seek collective bargaining agreement

LIHUE — The council chambers in the Historic County Building was filled Wednesday morning with Kauai Fire Department employees awaiting a bill that will decide the future of their collective-bargaining agreement.

“It’s a two-year contract starting July 1, 2019, and it’s a 2%, across-the-board increase on July 1, 2019, and July 1, 2020,” Acting Human Resource Director Janine Rapozo said.

“It also includes step movements when an individual qualifies for that, and a bonus that would equate to about 1.2% additional award, and the bonus is between $1,800 and $2,000 depending on how long a firefighter has been in service. That equates to about another 2%.”

In total, the new bargaining agreement equates to a 5.2% increase for firefighters, according to Rapozo, but will not carry over beyond 2020 when the last of two, one-time bonuses are received.

“It won’t go on to the third year or the fourth year, whereas the across-the-board increases will continue, but the 2% will stay already because it’s already built into the salaries,” Rapozo said.

Within the proposed increases to the collective-bargaining agreement is a one-time, lump-sum payment on salary ranges SR-17 to SR-27, ranging from $1,800 to $2,000. The one-time payments will be administered on July 1, 2019, for Unit 11 employees, and July 1, 2020, for Unit 12 employees.

Four current and former firefighters registered to speak before the Committee of the Whole that consists of all seven members of the County Council. Chair Arryl Kaneshiro, Arthur Brun, Luke Evslin and Ross Kagawa were present, which was enough to form a necessary quorum, but because of the number of members in attendance, a unanimous vote was required to pass any bill or amendment.

“I just want to be clear that there seems to be some misunderstanding that should this award be rejected that that would somehow automatically bring us back to the negotiation table,” said Robert H. “Bobby” Lee, president of the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association.

“First of all, it wouldn’t automatically send us. There would be an option, but I can tell you right now that would not be an option that we would consider mainly because having a final and binding award, if we were to go back to the negotiation table we would basically be giving up collective bargaining.”

Ross added it would not only be giving up collective bargaining for them, but also for the other bargaining units that have a final and binding arbitration process.

“You’re talking about a number of other bargaining units that represent tens of thousands of county employees across the state,” Ross said. “So going back to the negotiation table is just not an option.”

Bryan Doo, Kauai division chair of the HFFA, reminded the committee that the bill before them passed 8-0 to move forward on the Big Island the day before, and that Kauai is the only county still seeking approval of the bill.

“I just wanted to point out the guys you see behind me and the guys out there working today, they gonna work every day to protect the public and environment from all kind of hazards,” Doo said.

“They’re professional and take pride in being a part of this community. The bill before you today is fair, it’s reasonable and it’s consistent with other safety employees here on Kauai and across the state.”

Ultimately, the committee deferred Bill No. 2748, an ordinance that would approve the collective-bargaining agreement for Unit 11 until all members of the committee are present on June 19.

“I think that the risks of us overturning this decision are pretty profound in the way that it impacts public-sector unions, and as a private-sector employer with non-unionized employees, I really value the role of private- and public-sector unions,” Evslin said of the bill.

Evslin added that rejecting the bill is the nuclear option.

“You do it, it upends existing norms with unforeseen consequences and would clearly lead to a lawsuit,” he said.

In an earlier agenda item, the Planning Committee discussed Bill No. 2746, which would amend Chapter 8 and 10 of Kauai County Code 1987, which would give the county the ability to place a lien on illegal transient vacation rentals that fail to pay a $10,000 a day fine for every day they operate illegally.

The committee deferred the bill until all the committee members are present.

“We got a lot of testimony in opposition of the $10,000 fine, and that has been in place since 2013,” Evslin said. “This bill has no change to that fine structure. The changes are regarding the lien and expansion of the enforcement account.”

Evslin clarified that the Planning Department gives ample time for violators to come into compliance before being levied with fines or a lien.

No members of the public gave public testimony on the controversial bill.

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Ryan Collins, county reporter, can be reached at 245-0424 or rcollins@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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