A federal judge has thrown out a firefighters union lawsuit against Rural/Metro Corp., leaving both sides to work out their contentious pension issue during ongoing labor negotiations.
.S. District Court Judge John W. Sedwick last week ruled that hundreds of current and former members of the United Maricopa County Fire Fighters Association did not have viable claims.
A Rural/Metro spokeswoman said Wednesday the lawsuit was politically motivated because firefighters at the time had spearheaded an initiative to oust the private emergency services company in favor of a municipal fire department.
"Anyone can certainly draw their own conclusions, but there was considerable political action within this community involving the plaintiffs," said company spokeswoman Liz Merritt.
The decision comes on the heels of two failed ballot initiatives put up by the union on May 20 to create a Scottsdale-run fire department. Union members said they sought a municipal department to give the city faster fire service and to provide firefighters better pension and death benefits.
Rural/Metro is a publicly traded company that provides fire and emergency services for Scottsdale and unincorporated areas of Maricopa County. It has served Scottsdale for more than 50 years.
Firefighters accused Rural/Metro of violating securities laws and its contract with the union. The firefighters claimed company executives helped conceal the true value of Rural/Metro stock from 1996 through 2001. That resulted in losses for firefighters who held company stock, the plaintiffs said.
A portion of the suit against accounting firm giant Arthur Andersen remains active, said John Rooney, the attorney for the former and current firefighters.
"We're certainly not giving up,'' he said. "We're quite chagrined at the court's ruling.''
Union president Steve Springborn, who acted as one of the plaintiffs, said the judge's dismissal is not final.
"It's still a situation where Rural/Metro has an obligation to take care of their employees that they're failing to do. That's what this lawsuit was about,'' said Springborn, a firefighter and paramedic with the company.
Labor negotiations between the union and Rural/Metro are slow. The contract expired June 30, and both sides agreed to extend it to work out labor issues, Kurt Krumperman, president of Rural/Metro's fire and emergency services group, said last month.
Springborn refused to disclose topics of negotiations and how often the groups meet. Krumperman was out of the office and could not be reached for comment.
In another court case, Rural/Metro reached a settlement in two 1998 class-action lawsuits involving former company officers and directors. The undisclosed amount is subject to court approval, according to Rural/Metro's Web site.
The company stated on the Web site that the payout will have no bearing on its operations or financial standing because it does not exceed its insurance limits.