When last we left Scottsdale’s firefighters, they were headed into contract negotiations with their employer, the private Rural/Metro Corp. Still stinging from an overwhelming ballot-box defeat in May when they attempted to oust Rural/Metro as the city’s fire protection provider, in June firefighters sat down to start talks with the company.
That defeat is hardly a strong bargaining position for the union to start with. And things haven’t improved for the union since. It insists on playing politics.
On Thursday the Tribune reported that a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against Rural/Metro filed by union local president Steve Springborn and another firefighter because they lacked viable claims. Springborn had sought relief because the company failed to provide matching funds to participants in its 401(k) fund for the year 2000.
Of course, many Valley residents work for companies that, hobbled by the current recession, couldn’t come up with such matches, either. Nobody sued them. But the suit shored up the 401(k) issue in the spring campaign.
Meanwhile, an important issue for the local advanced during this spring’s campaign — parity with the public sector in death benefits to relatives should private-sector firefighters die in the line of duty — is methodically moving through Congress. H.R. 1475, sponsored in March by U.S. Rep. J.D. Hayworth, R-Ariz., was referred in May to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, where sensitivity to firefighters’ needs can be expected.
One of the biggest impediments to progress for the local is something from which it can never dislodge itself: affiliation with the national union, which has committed itself to removing the private sector from the U.S. firefighting map. In Scottsdale, that private sector, we’re happy to say, is alive and well. Rural/Metro, which hadn’t missed a year until 2000, has been making 401(k) matches since.
The local, however, will always be playing the politics its national mentors insist upon. If that’s good for Scottsdale, we are hard pressed to see how. Union leaders ought to try something new: compromise.