Threats, demotions, increased hours with no additional compensation, and numerous punitive changes in working conditions. That is what four California firefighters allege their fire chief did to them earlier this year upon learning they were forming a union. They have filed a civil rights action in Federal court.
Fire Captains Dustin Kuntz and Jeromy Nottingham and Fire Engineers Jason Keune and Frank Lee filed suit on May 16, 2012 against the Vacaville Fire Protection District and fire chief Howard F. Wood claiming the chief’s retaliation against them violated their 1st and 14th Amendment rights (freedom of association). The suit also alleges that the chief’s retaliation violated California Government Code §3502, and the California Firefighter’s Procedural Bill of Rights.
Section 3502 of the California Government Code states that “public employees shall have the right to form, join, and participate in the activities of employee organizations of their own choosing for the purpose of representation on all matters of employer-employee relations” and that “[n]o public employee shall be subject to punitive action or denied promotion, or threatened with any such treatment, for the exercise of lawful action as an elected, appointed, or recognized representative of any employee bargaining unit.”
Section 3252, called the Firefighters Procedural Bill of Rights, provides that “A firefighter shall not be subjected to punitive action, or denied promotion, or be threatened with that treatment, because of the lawful exercise of the rights under this chapter…”
According to the complaint, after learning that the four firefighters were forming a union the chief:
- Informed Captain Kuntz that he now had a “target on his back”, would suffer certain consequences, and would not be promoted to battalion chief as previously planned
- Referred to Captain Kuntz as a “selfish union thug”
- Removed Captain Kuntz as training captain, and reassigned him to report to a volunteer captain who was placed in charge of training
- Demoted Wood was from Engineer to firefighter
- Threatened to demote Lee from Engineer to firefighter
- Threatened all four members saying he would eventually stop the union by getting rid of all of them
- Increased their hours from 40 per week to 53 per week with no additional compensation
- Initiated a disciplinary campaign over minor matters to create a pretext for further disciplinary measures, including discipline over the presence of dust behind a stove, and for a member removing his uniform shift while eating dinner.
- Prohibited members from working out while on duty, a departure from a long standing practice
- Issued numerous other threats including future discipline, changing hours and schedules, and worsening work conditions.
The suit seeks injunctive relief to prohibit future retaliation and restore conditions to the way they were prior to the chief learning about the formation of the union. The plaintiffs are also seeking compensatory damages, costs and attorneys fees.
Here is a copy of the complaint: Kuntz v Vacaville