Fire fighters sue La Marque for failing to ratify bargaining agreement

John Suayan, Galveston Bureau Jan. 27, 2010, 10:33am

GALVESTON - A local fire fighters' union is suing the city of La Marque in an effort to get the city council to consider a proposed collective bargaining agreement.

In a lawsuit filed Jan. 15 in Galveston County District Court, the La Marque Fire Fighters Association claims the city has refused to come to an agreement on a new contract because "the city does not like who the fire fighters have chosen as their democratically elected president."

According to the complaint, such actions go against a voter-mandated local government code.

"The city's actions constitute not only bad faith bargaining, but also an attempt to dominate and interfere with the administration of the association, in violation of the city's obligations under the Fire and Police Employee Relations Act," the original petition says.

Both the association and the city have entered into previous collective bargaining agreements governing the wages, hours, and employment conditions for the fire fighters. The current agreement ended on Sept. 30, 2009.

Negotiations on a successor agreement took place a month prior to the expiration, with the parties reaching a tentative agreement "on all issues raised by either concerning the fire fighters' wages, hours, and working conditions," the suit says.

Ratification of the tentative agreement was the final step. The plaintiff's members ratified the new agreement at a special meeting on Aug. 9, and John Brasher, the association's president informed La Marque City Manager Eric Cage of the process.

The suit states the city was to ratify the agreement in a meeting of its own, but the alleged actions of Mayor Pro Tem Keith Bell at the Aug. 10 city council meeting revealed otherwise.

Allegedly Bell, a fire fighter himself with the Galveston Fire Department, verbally assaulted Bell and the association members at a meeting over a new fire fighting apparatus proposed by the fire chief.

Bell reportedly was in uniform at the meeting, the suit says, adding he would be suspended by Galveston's fire chief for two weeks because of his attire.

The association points out that Bell believed it played a role in his suspension and argues the city's blind eye to the agreement was a retaliatory tactic. It additionally notes that Bell whisked his fellow members to another room at the Aug. 24 council meeting, apparently to discuss killing the measure.

"When the agenda item to ratify the tentative agreement was read, the measure died for pack of a motion to bring it up for consideration," the suit says.

"At all times since, the La Marque City Council has failed and refused to act to approve or reject the tentative agreement."

The association insists Bell and Cage have stated publicly that the plaintiff will not have a contract approved until Brasher is unseated as president.

Mediation was suggested, but the defendant declined to participate, according to the suit.

Austin attorney B. Craig Deats is representing the plaintiff, and the case has been assigned to Galveston County 56th District Court Judge Lonnie Cox.

Case No. 10cv0245

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