www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/harford/belair/ph-ag-fire-union-0515-20130514,0,7406498.story

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Harford Fire, EMS Foundation says new firefighter union demanded it fire 20 employees

BY BRYNA ZUMER, bzumer@theaegis.com

5:28 PM EDT, May 14, 2013

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Harford County's fire and EMS union has written a letter demanding the county's Volunteer Fire and EMS Foundation fire 20 employees because they refused to join the union, according to the foundation.

The foundation responded with a letter of its own, demanding documentation from the union and warning it would not "conduct a mass termination" at any rate.

"The discharge of these employees en masse as you have demanded would cripple the Foundation's operations and render it unable to function," lawyer Stephen Silvestri wrote in that letter.

The letter that the union sent to the foundation that sparked the back and forth demands was not immediately available. Silvestri said it was written by union treasurer Donald Hawkins and delivered to the foundation.

Robert James, president of the local branch of the International Association of Fire Fighters, also sent a separate letter recently, saying the employees violated the Constitution and bylaws of the international union and charges will be referred, if they do not comply by June 1.

James said Tuesday he did not want to see anyone get fired, but the demand was part of a contract.

"We are being put in an awkward situation," he said. "This union came into being because our working conditions were atrocious."

He said part-time firefighters cannot be members of the union, but the union made an exception because the foundation insisted on it.

"There are employees that have not been in the union and they are not paying. We just need enough to offset our expenses," he said. "It's a condition of the contract that the foundation made us accept."

"I don't want anybody to lose their job, but at the same time, if the volunteers treat us like trash, it's ridiculous," he said.

He said he was also not aware of any rebuttal by the foundation's lawyer. Hawkins said he did not want to comment on the issue and directed comments to James.

Silvestri sent a letter to union treasurer Donald Hawkins on Monday, explaining the letter is being taken as a statement that the 20 employees have not paid dues or service fees to the union.

Silvestri asked the union to provide proof the union sent the letter to each employee, proof the union provided notification of "Beck rights" (in reference to the rules of how a union must fulfill its duties), proof the union provided notification membership and service fee obligations, proof the union provided bargaining unit members notification of their membership and service fee obligations and identification of any bargaining unit members who have not enrolled as a union members and is not on the list of 20 employees.

"The Foundation will not consider discharging any employee identified in the Union's demand until it receives the above referenced documentation," Silvestri wrote in the letter.

Silvestri also explained in a phone interview: "If we fire people without having that knowledge, we are also potentially liable."

According to that letter, the union was also asking the foundation to notify three other employees they would be fired if payment was not immediately forthcoming.

"The Foundation is denying this request," Silvestri wrote. "The Union has no legal right to demand that dues or fees be paid by checkoff or to have the Foundation discharge anyone who has not initiated a checkoff."

Also, he wrote: "The Foundation...will not discharge such individuals until replacement candidates have been secured, provided that at the time, the employees remain out of compliance with the contractual requirement to pay dues or service fees."