Teamster boss slings accusation as talks stall

Contract negotiations between the town of Brookfield, WI and its firefighters union have broken down, with a Teamsters official accusing the town administrator of calling firefighters lazy and complaining that he'd rather be at home eating pizza than bargaining in the evening.

Town Administrator Rick Czopp said he never called firefighters lazy. He said he might have complained about the evening meetings because the two sides were making little progress and union officials, he said, walked out of one bargaining session less than 10 minutes after it began.

After about a half-dozen meetings since the firefighters' three-year contract expired Dec. 31, talks have deteriorated to the point that the two sides can't agree when to meet. Czopp said he was optimistic that negotiations would get back on track. He said the recent tension was typical posturing during contract talks.

Gene Gowey, a Teamsters Local 695 official representing the town's fire personnel, wrote a biting letter to Czopp on July 11, denying the union was bargaining in bad faith.

Gowey had e-mailed a request to meet for negotiations, to which Czopp said the union never responded to the town's May 16 contract offer.

Gowey wrote that Czopp was the one blocking progress and acting in bad faith.

"Rick Czopp complains during bargaining that he is hungry and is missing his TV shows," Gowey wrote. "Rick Czopp quips he wishes he was not there and that he was at home watching his favorite TV programs and eating pizza."

He said Czopp berated employees during talks.

"In conversation across the table with (Fire Lt.) Brian Loomis, Rick Czopp says Town's Fire Department employees don't do anything but eat, sleep and watch TV all day. They're lazy!" Gowey wrote.

In his letter and in an interview Tuesday, Gowey accused Czopp of refusing to meet with union stewards - part-time town firefighters.

Czopp disputed that, saying he merely wanted to meet with them when they weren't on duty for the town. He said the town shouldn't pay firefighters to bargain during work hours.

"What happens if they get a call? Oops, negotiations are over," Czopp said.

Gowey said Czopp didn't object when they attended past sessions during work.

He said some stewards worked other full-time jobs during the day and needed to meet in the evenings.

Czopp said he and the other two members of the town's negotiating team - Fire Chief Andrew Smerz and Town Supervisor Dan Shea - have asked for bargaining to move from evening to daytime hours.

Gowey accused Czopp of dismissing a union offer to settle for about $39,000 a long-standing dispute about overtime pay pending before the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission. Gowey said the town might be liable for more than $200,000.

"It would have been great for the town, saving them a TON of money, litigation fees, attorney fees, etc.," Gowey wrote. "Members of the union would have ratified this BUT you told me to go to hell!"

Czopp said this week: "I never received any proposal like that, otherwise that would have to go to the Town Board."

Smerz said the settlement offer was made verbally during contract talks but was not put into writing.

Smerz, Shea and Czopp jointly signed a reply letter July 13 that calls Gowey's letter "painfully inaccurate."

Gowey stood by his letter Tuesday, saying it was "very accurate."


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