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Firefighters union talks stalled

September 26, 2012
By MEL TOADVINE ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

Walt Stevens, president of the Southwest Florida Professional Firefighters and Paramedics, Local Union 1826, said last week that the Lehigh Acres fire district did not have the courtesy to "directly inform" his union or any representative of the bargaining unit affected by the fire district's board which has declared an impasse in negotiations.

In a statement from Stevens, he said "that the fire district instead chose to first inform a Local 1826 representative from another Lehigh Acres bargaining unit.

"That same lack of courtesy and respect can be found in the district's decision to declare an impasse in negotiations when Local 1826 and the firefighters it represents were willing to again help the district overcome its economic problems by continuing wage and benefit concessions for another year.

Union representative and the fire district met in negotiations on Sept. 5 and at the conclusion of that session, Stevens said Local 1826 expressed reservations about the district's budget that it is overstating its expenditures and understating its revenues.

Stevens said that when Local 1826 asked the district's representatives to respond to those concerns at the Sept. 5 session, no answer was provided.

Local 1826 then requested and received permission to meet with the district's finance director in order to be provided with a more detailed explanation of the district's budget calculations.

"Five days later, with no further discussion and without receiving a response from Local 1826, the district declared an impasse," Stevens said.

An email was received from the district's attorney, Nikhil Joshi addressed to Battalion Chief John Wayne.

Ben Van Klingeren, the district's finance director, said the district has a deficit budgeted for around $1.9 million.

The anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America by terrorists came into play, Stevens said because the district declared its impasse on the eve of Sept. 11, a day he said that is sacred to firefighters.

"September 11 is an occasion for all of us, not just firefighters, to remember the sacrifices made by firefighters and many others on that fateful day 11 years ago," Sevens said.

He also said there would be "no further statement" from Local 1826.

District representatives were not available Sunday night for comment.



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