Florida Arbitration Award Draws the Ire of Elected Officials

An arbitrator’s ruling that essentially granted firefighters what their contract said they were entitled to, has drawn sharp criticism from elected officials in Charlotte County, Florida.

The criticism was so vitriolic that one county commissioner, Robert Skidmore, accused the firefighters of “extortion”, and demanded they continue to forgo the pay increases they have voluntarily deferred since 2007. County Administrator Ray Sandrock said of pay raises “Back in better times, that was kind of a standard practice”.

The story began back in 2007, when the Charlotte County firefighters’ collective bargaining agreement granted pay raises of 3% for cost of living and up to a 4% for certain educational incentives. The union agreed to defer the contractual raises in 2007, and again in 2009, until September 31, 2011.

When the county and the firefighters were unable to reach an agreement on a new contract the parties differed on the impact the firefighters’ deferral. The firefighters’ claimed they were entitled to the raises effective September 31, 2011 and would bargain from there. The county claimed that by forgoing the raises the firefighters were no longer entitled to them unless and until a new agreement was negotiated that incorporated them.

The arbitrator ruled last Wednesday that the firefighters were entitled to the raises, and awarded them retroactive to September 31, 2011. The cost of the award is estimated to be $800,000.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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