The Cape Coral city manager has ruled in favor of the local fire union over two grievances filed as a result of an audit of employee incentive pays.
The city began conducting an audit of employee "add pays" at the end of June, officials reported. Add pays are extra monies that union members can earn by attaining certain certifications, like fire inspector or smoke diver.
The audit raised questions about whether add pays were being approved in accordance with the language in the union's collective bargaining agreements.
"We found confusion within the contract language as to whether employees were entitled to an add pay for each incentive or if the employee needed multiple certifications to qualify for a single add pay," City Manager Gary King wrote in a prepared statement.
An add pay is typically $35 per pay period.
King placed a moratorium on approving additional add pay requests pending the outcome of the audit and a review of the existing add pay policy. On July 8, the union filed two grievances with the the fire chief at the department.
They were filed for the battalion chiefs and the rank and file employees.
Officials reported the grievances were then sent to King on July 27.
"King completed his (internal) review (of the add pays and the policy) and concluded that an historical context exists for the current practice," Connie Barron, the city's spokeswoman, reported Friday in a prepared statement.
On Thursday, King instructed the city's Human Resources Department to begin processing the outstanding change notices and continue with the policy.
"While the language in the battalion chiefs contract was not as unclear as the fire rank and file, we still need to clarify this for future agreements," he wrote. "The proper arena to do so will be during collective bargaining."
Mark Muerth, president of the Cape Coral Professional Firefighters Local 2424, explained Friday that his group supplied King with several exhibits, old and new contract language and even a prior, special magistrate's findings.
"I think after turning over that material, we were obviously able to win our argument," he said, adding that he is not surprised by King's finding and the outcome of the issue. "We knew, ultimately, in the end that we were right."
Muerth noted that if the auditor had contacted the union about the confusing language, the union likely could have provided items to clear up the confusion.
"I'm just glad this did not create a whole litigation process," he said.
According to Barron, the audit was not complete as of Friday. It is being conducted by the City Auditor's Office.