Prior to discussion on drug test policy, Boise Fire union objects to live streaming and recording of negotiations with city

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The City of Boise and representatives of the unions for police officers and firefighters in the city are negotiating over new contracts. But during the latest round of firefighter union negotiations, the proceedings stopped abruptly. The issue? Firefighter representatives discovered the public meetings were being streamed and made available for viewing later on YouTube.

The firefighter union said that was against the ground rules it agreed to with the city.

When BoiseDev went to look at the video for the collective labor agreement session on YouTube, we noticed the video had been made private. We then asked the City of Boise why, and they would not provide an answer on the record. We then filed a records request under Idaho’s Public Records Act for the video and supporting materials.

Screenshot of union negotiation videos on YouTube, made private by the City of Boise

What we found was a long exchange between the union and the city, with union negotiators taking issue with the public availability of a recording.

On June 16th, at the outset of the third collective labor agreement negotiation session, Courtney Washburn, Mayor Lauren McLean’s Chief of Staff, informed the fire union of the issue.

“The mistake that was made that our support folks use the same process that they use for all public meetings,” Courtney Washburn, Mayor Lauren McLean’s Chief of Staff, said. “It was not… intentional…”

The union negotiator initially said they would move forward. Negotiations then went ahead for nearly two hours, with both video recording and transcription in place.

Union asks for no live stream

After the two sides returned from a break, the union’s stance had shifted.

“We appreciate the city bringing to us the fact that we were actually recording these sessions and streaming them live and maintaining a record of them,” Boise Fire Union negotiator Jason Shuey said. “When we went through the proposals for ground rules, which we agreed to and both parties had signed… ‘verbatim and electronic recording of the sessions between the parties pursuant to the agreement are not permitted unless mutually agreed upon by both parties.'”

Shuey said the union understood Idaho code on open meetings, but said he’d prefer members of the public be required to show up at City Hall to watch in person.

“We do not want to continue down this path that we are on,” he said. “We have a couple of options. Option A would be we move forward and… we stop the live streaming recording of the sessions take place via in person down at City Hall, or our second option is that we stop negotiations for the day.”

Washburn said the city would prefer to continue to live stream.

“I think we can address the recording issue by instructing staff to switch to manual minutes and ensuring the recordings are not taking place,” Washburn said. “I believe that we are pretty clear that all of our meetings are streamed for multiple reasons, including the unfortunate fact we are still in the pandemic. We cannot compel people who may or may not think that they have COVID into a public (setting).”

Washburn noted the city streams all public meetings – formal or informal.

“If there is a concern of individuals coming into this room, that we kill all live streaming, for the simple fact that we cannot control any recordings of the live streaming outside of this room,” Shuey said.

He proposed instead that the proceedings be streamed on a closed circuit to another room in city hall only – but not made available online.

Shuey said the goal was to be able to have “up front” negotiations, and that recordings could hurt that.

Washburn said it was the city’s policy to live stream all meetings for transparency.

With a stalemate, the two sides ended negotiations for the day. When they picked back up again on June 23rd, the sessions live-streamed – but only on Zoom. All prior sessions on YouTube had been marked as private and were no longer publicly accessible.

Idaho code on meetings

Idaho State Code does not require public agencies to stream open meetings. The city streams and archives nearly all of its public meetings, dating back to 2005. It also formerly aired and then rebroadcast some meetings on public access television.

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city moved most meetings from a proprietary server to YouTube. Since the onset of the pandemic, an increasing number of agencies have begun streaming and archiving meetings to ease public access.

The negotiations are key, as public safety makes up 51 cents of every dollar in the city’s 2023 budget. In the next fiscal year, the city has budgeted $67.93 million for fire services, an increase of $5.2 million from the current year – an increase of 8.3%. Only Boise PD is allocated a larger share of the city’s budget, with $77.5 million budgeted for next year.

The City of Boise declined to comment, citing ground rules that prevented either side from talking to the media about the negotiations.

Negotiation over drug policy

Negotiations with the Boise Fire union on June 23rd at Boise City Hall. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev file

When the hearings resumed Thursday, this time on the non-recorded Zoom session, the union and city immediately returned to the topic they were negotiating before the conflict over video recording: the city’s drug policy.

The union is asking for the city’s drug policy around random drug testing to be removed from broad city policy, and instead, become part of the union contract.

“The nature of firefighting is that there is trauma from working in the field,” Shuey said. “You can correlate substance abuse with trying to protect our community. The idea behind the (proposed) adjustment is in support of membership and employees. It takes a toll on individuals which is why you see fairly short careers.”

The union asked the city to change the policy for its membership from the current ability to do random drug testing to instead drug test upon “reasonable suspicion”.

Washburn said the city wanted to maintain one policy for all employees across the city.

“The city is not interested in that language in the (collective labor agreement),” she said. “We want to maintain one policy for all employees.”

The union said it hoped to foster an environment for employees that was supportive, versus adversarial.

“We want to support membership if they have a problem and want them to know their job is not on the line if they have a problem and we want to ensure they are shooters,” Shuey said. “We want the words to say ‘yes we’ll do this,’ not, ‘eh, we’ll talk about it later.'”

Jayme Sullivan, Boise’s city attorney, said the city and the union had the same goal in mind – to support employees.

BoiseDev listened to the first part of the meeting on Zoom, and within one minute after we physically walked into the public meeting, the union negotiator moved to change topics.

The negotiation sessions are set to continue through the summer.

Don Day - BoiseDev Editor & Founder
Don Day - BoiseDev Editor & Founder
Don is the founder and publisher of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow. Contact him at [email protected].

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