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Wauwatosa firefighters allege city retaliated against them

Wauwatosa firefighters are locked in legal battles with the city.

Wauwatosa firefighters are locked in legal battles with the city.

June 18, 2014

Wauwatosa  Already engaged in legal battles with Wauwatosa firefighters over duty disability and collective bargaining, the city of Wauwatosa is now facing another set of allegations from the firefighters union.

Attorney Tim Hawks, representing the union, complained to a state agency May 27 that city officials have held back firefighters from promotions or advanced duties for taking actions protected by their contracts, and asked inappropriate questions during tests for firefighters to become captains.

Fire Chief Rob Ugaste, identified in the complaint as an agent of the city, declined to comment on the matter, deferring to the attorney representing the city, James Macy. Macy was dismissive of the complaint.

"The initial review is we don't find there's any merit to the complaints at all," Macy said. "Some of them seem to be a concern over who sits where on a fire truck."

Allegations of retaliation

The union's prohibited practice complaint notes two examples of firefighters it alleges were kept back from promotions or advanced duties because of actions they took that were protected by their contracts.

According to the complaint, in 2011, Lt. TJ Dickau reported to human resources the sexual harassment of a colleague by a superior. The superior allegedly admonished Dickau for going around the chain of command to report the incident.

According to the complaint, when Dickau should have been assigned an officer seat in a fire truck in 2012 based on his seniority and past practice, a lieutenant with lower seniority was given the spot. As of 2014, Dickau was allegedly still a floating lieutenant while three less-senior lieutenants had officer seats.

The complaint also alleges Lt. Barbara Kadrich was retaliated against for resigning last year from the department's paramedic program — a contractual right. Based on her seniority and past practice, the complaint states she should have been assigned to an officer seat in a fire truck after resigning from the program. Instead, she was allegedly assigned to a firefighter seat while those with lower seniority were given officer seats.

Noting the time between these incidents and the complaint being filed this spring, Macy questioned the relevance of the complaint, saying the department had already looked into the issues when they occurred.

"It doesn't seem to be anything new today than several years ago when there wasn't merit then," Macy said.

Hawks declined to comment on the complaint. Union President Gary Webb did not respond to requests for comment before press deadline.

A question of loyalty

Also part of the complaint, two firefighters who took the captain's test earlier this year said they believed Ugaste had judged their answers in an oral interview based on their loyalty to the union and the city.

The questions allegedly included which side they would be on if management asked them to do something the union was against.

Another: "Define loyalty and tell me why you're loyal to the city."

Macy said the questions were not meant as a knock to the union.

"I think it's totally appropriate to ask," Macy said. "What's unique in some of these positions is that people are asked in some capacity to make management decisions, but they remain part of the bargaining unit and there's nothing wrong with that, but it puts people in a difficult scenario if they're caught in the middle. There are ways people can respond to that that isn't negative to the union at all."

Other legal battles pending

In addition to the complaint about retaliation, the city of Wauwatosa is engaged in other challenges from firefighters.

Two firefighters who say they developed respiratory problems on the job are fighting the city to get duty disability benefits. One of them is the firefighter who Dickau reported was sexually harassed. She has filed an additional complaint against the city, saying she was discriminated against in her termination case because of the sexual harassment report.

Additionally, in December, the union sued the city for taking off the table what the union viewed as longstanding negotiable provisions for collective bargaining. That case will be heard by the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission June 30.

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