After two years of hard work to overcome poor labor-management relations and low morale, the members of Levy County, FL Local 4069 are finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel following the resignation of the director of the Levy County Public Safety Department.
“Our Local 4069 members were facing a mountain of issues, from unsafe firehouse conditions to threats of retaliation against union members,” says IAFF 12th District Vice President Larry Osborne. “President Katy Graves and her members sought advice from other IAFF leaders and those efforts paid off.”
The turning point came in June 2014 in a period of discontent among the rank-and-file, but also within the Local 4069 Executive Board. In an effort to bring order to chaos, then-Local 4069 Secretary-Treasurer Katy Graves agreed to take over as president.
“Our membership morale was at an all-time low and the ship was sinking faster than we could bail water,” says Graves. “We had a lot of challenges and the turnover rate was unbelievable.” Over the last three years, more than 105 fire fighters left their positions.
In her new position, Graves knew that she needed to address firehouse conditions, file a number of grievances on behalf of her members and address the rocky labor-management relationship. It was a big mountain to climb, and she began by networking with other Florida IAFF leaders and seeking advice on strategies to overcome each obstacle.
“One of the first things we did was to ask Levy County Public Safety Director David Knowles to listen to our concerns,” says Graves. “When he was not responsive, we went to other county leaders, who were also not willing to help. So, we began informing the public on Facebook and elsewhere about the director’s inability to work with employees and to properly follow the contract.”
To address some of the employee concerns and contract compliance issues, Local 4069 filed 28 individual grievances and eight class action grievances. It was the first time in more than five years that any grievance had been filed, but Levy County members were successful with each filing.
The filing of grievances and efforts to make improvements on behalf of Local 4069 members did receive some pushback. In fact, two grievances had to be filed after the members in question were demoted as a result of their union activity. The result of both grievances were positive and both fire fighters are back to their rightful rank with back pay.
Meanwhile, Levy County members continued their efforts to improve relations with county commissioners. Those efforts are also making improvements, especially as firehouses are getting the repairs they need, including roof repairs. Mold and unsafe sleeping conditions (in one case, sleeping quarters are inside a shed constructed inside an apparatus bay) are also starting to be addressed.
Additionally, county commissioners demanded Public Safety Director Knowles’ resignation, citing concerns over the declining support of his leadership from inside and outside the Department of Public Safety.
Moving forward, President Graves and the members of Local 4069 hope to continue to improve their relationship with county management and to be a part of the selection process when the county is ready to select a new director of public safety.