Fire union says city breaking contract, wasting tax money - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Fire union says city breaking contract, wasting tax money

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The firefighters union said Honolulu Fire Chief Manuel Neves is costing taxpayers more money and creating hardships for firefighters and their families by changing the way the fire department allows firefighters to volunteer and fill-in for co-workers who are facing family health crises.

It's one of a half dozen issues over which the firefighters union has filed complaints with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board. The union's leaders unanimously approved a "no confidence" vote in the fire chief last March.

Firefighter Vance Peter's ten-year-old son Kala was diagnosed with bone cancer last June. Kala underwent two surgeries to remove tumors and is undergoing chemotherapy.

"Treatment started July 1st, so from there, it's been a lot of hospital stays and visits," Vance Peter said.

Peter has worked only nine shifts at the Waipahu fire station as the driver of a tanker truck since his son began cancer treatment in July.

"You got to have compassion to do what we do. And it's hard when I'm faced with a situation like this and I don't get any compassion shown by my chief," Peter said.

Peter -- a firefighter for nearly 20 years -- is using his vacation and sick time to care with his so, because the HFD administration has made it harder for firefighters to fill-in for each other in times of need.

"For whatever reason, the fire chief is purposely making a decision to restrict our own firefighters from helping each other," said Bobby Lee, president of the Hawaii Firefighters Association, the statewide union of firefighters.

Lee said the union has filed a complaint with the state labor board.

Taxpayers should be upset, Lee added, because the new policy means firefighters are being paid overtime to cover Peter's shifts, when for years they were able to volunteer to fill-in for each other, a practice Lee said was previously allowed on Oahu, and is currently allowed in neighbor island counties and under their contract.

"This particular decision, no question, is costing taxpayers more money," Lee said.

HFD Battalion Chief Terry Seelig, speaking for the HFD administration, said, "There's no change, no restrictions in doing substitution. It just has to be by the policy which is to have someone in the same capacity."

Seelig said fire department leaders care deeply for their employees and still allow workers to substitute for each other.

"It is nothing that this administration has changed as far as the policy itself. It may be an interpretation, and that will be resolved (by the labor board)," Seelig said.

Vance Peter said he has plenty of sick and vacation leave to burn, but he's concerned about less-senior firefighters who might not have much leave and might need co-workers to volunteer to fill-in for their shifts, so they won't have to use their leave to be with their families in times of crisis.

Kala Peter, the firefighter's son, is getting better, his parents said. The 5th grader still has two rounds of chemotherapy to go through and he looks forward to going back to school once he gets better. His father said he looks forward to returning to work at the Waipahu fire house when Kala recovers.

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