Over the last several weeks, sources familiar with the situation in the city had been reporting to the Vanguard that the Davis firefighters’ union had been effectively engaging in a work slowdown, doing the minimum possible so as to not get in trouble, but cutting back on all other extra work.
The data released by Chief Nathan Trauernicht this weekend, published by the Vanguard on Monday, for the first time clearly indicates such a trend regarding training.
The data show a very clear trend from March 2014 to September 2014 where training hours in total, and averaged by employee, dropped from around 30 hours per employee per month down to as low as 15 hours by August, before rebounding slightly back to 20 by September.
Is this clear evidence that Davis firefighters are intentionally reducing their training hours in protest of a number of policies that were implemented over their objections? These include boundary drop, staff reductions from 12 to 11 per shift, decoupling of the rescue apparatus, and most significantly the shared management agreement which has put Chief Nathan Trauernicht in charge of both the UC Davis and Fire Departments.
Chief Trauernicht noted last night, “You have to keep in mind that this is only a SEVEN month snapshot. There can be any number of circumstances that impact training hours.”
He stated, “I do believe that it is reasonable to expect that the hourly trendline SHOULD remain relatively even, increase, or even occasionally dip down to a standard baseline before rising again.”
To illustrate this possibility, the chief provided the Vanguard with the entire year of 2013, which shows both agencies’ training data.
Here we see what is a much more typical pattern, in which the monthly totals seemingly randomly fluctuate between increases and decreases in the training hours. That is not the pattern we see with the Davis firefighters in 2014.
But there is more to the data than just this.
The Chief is able to break down the training by three shifts – A, B, C. While the overall trendline is a downward trend across the board, we note that Shift A, with the exception of July, had the least amount of training hours each month of any shift. Shift A is manned by Union President Bobby Weist.
Last August (2013), the Vanguard reported that the firefighters’ union had filed an unfair labor practices action against the city, alleging that the city had disciplined Union President Bobby Weist for union activities.
While personnel matters and personnel reviews are generally exempt from public disclosure, and rightly so, the moment Mr. Weist went to PERB (Public Employment Relations Board), the matter became a public record.
In his complaint, Mr. Weist claimed that on March 13, 2013, he attempted to take vacation leave in a amount less than 24 hours. He argued that no other captains were on leave at this time, but that Division Chief Shawn Kinney “denied Captain Weist’s leave, claiming that Captain Weist had not fulfilled a required number of training hours and, thus, needed to attend a training session.”
On April 9, 2013, Fire Division Chief Bruce Fry, in a memo to Captain Weist, noted in a long list of complaints that Mr. Weist does not meet current standards for things such as completing 20 hours of training each month for himself and his crew.
This was, in fact, not the first time such a problem has been noted. The fire audit noted that his shift rarely hit its training hours and he failed to file reports in a complete and prompt matter. In the memo it stated that he would receive written evaluations monthly for the following six months.
Division Chief Fry wrote, “You have over 28 years of fire experience. It is expected the quality of your work will reflect that experience.” It added, “Failure to meet standards during the remainder of the 1 year period will result in a recommendation for discipline.”
Does all of this amount to a slowdown on the part of the union president and the membership of the Davis Professional Firefighters Association?
Chief Trauernicht stated, “While I can’t say that the order for a slowdown has has been given (because I don’t know that to be a fact), I can say that we don’t get a lot of eager participation in committees, projects, and in some trainings.”
“The reasoning that is commonly heard goes back to the contract imposition and a myriad of other issues. Morale is very very very low and I actually sympathize with some of it as some of the issues put me, and the rest of the shared management team, in a frustrating if not impossible position of dealing with inherited issues that are significant in magnitude,” he stated.
At the same time, the Chief stated, “I remain hopeful that we will reach the day where, even with the barriers to progress from bargaining and the stigma of fire reforms, we will still find a way to move forward.”
Along that front, there was good news in the September report, as well. The data show that boundary drop and the move and cover strategy is working.
Wrote Chief Trauernicht, “You can clearly see the impact of Engine 34’s role now that the boundary has been dropped, and the impact of the new move and cover strategy, in the amount of times that 32 and 33 now stay in their districts ready to provide service to those portions of the community.”
The result is that, despite the drop from 12 to 11 personnel, most people in the community are better covered than they were before the changes.
Chief Trauernicht stated, “It is impressive no matter what issues challenge shared management. Certainly a time for the community to be proud of improved services.”
However, these improvements may be challenged in the coming weeks and months by political forces bent on undoing these changes. More on that tomorrow.
—David M. Greenwald reporting