MISHAWAKA — An arbitrator in Fort Wayne has ruled in favor of the Mishawaka firefighters union in a grievance with the city.

For now, it leaves the fate of the city’s third ambulance shift in question. Both the city and the union agree the extra shift is necessary to meet the city’s growing number of medical calls. It also draws extra revenue for the city.

But the union — in its grievance filed just as the city implemented the third shift in March — argued the city staffed the shift in a way that caused staffing levels to violate the union’s bargaining agreement.

The arbitrator’s 12-page decision was filed Thursday.

“I’m hoping they (city officials) want to sit down and work this out,” union President James Elliott said today, adding that he was still studying it.

The city hasn’t yet decided what the next step will be, but fire Chief Dale Freeman said the city may have no other choice but to stop the third shift.

If the city were to continue with the third shift and abide by the arbitration ruling, it would have to hire more firefighters. The city already plans to hire two more in 2012. And, by Elliott’s count, the city would have to hire 10 extra beyond that.

“The citizens are the real loser here,” Freeman said. He had yet to read through the decision, but he added, “We’re always willing to sit down and talk.”

To create the third shift, the city dropped its engine companies from four down to three firefighters. The union argued that’s unsafe. The union also said the bargaining agreement calls for staffing levels that never go below a total of 23 in the fire suppression division and four in emergency medical services.

The city countered that the city could still meet that requirement whether firefighters show up to a fire in an ambulance or fire truck. Many firefighters are certified to work on both fire engines and ambulances.

City and union officials came before the arbitrator, David A. Dilts, in a hearing Dec. 16.

The decision is binding and final, said Dilts, who was chosen and agreed upon by both the union and the city. He’s a professor teaching economics and labor relations at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.

He said regulations keep him from discussing the case.

Staff writer Joseph Dits:
jdits@sbtinfo.com
574-235-6158