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Local firefighter union under investigation

Since September, the actions of certain firefighter union members has been a topic of conversation in at least six council meetings.
Published: Nov. 19, 2020 at 9:54 PM CST
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LAREDO, Tex. (KGNS) - Many career fields like education or law enforcement have unions who represent their members best interests.

However, one local union is being investigated for how their members are allegedly using paid time off.

The City of Laredo is looking for an outside auditor or attorney to investigate the firefighter union’s use of association business leave, which in simple terms is paid time off the city gives firefighter to do union work.

Since September, the actions of certain firefighter union members has been a topic of conversation in at least six council meetings.

This began when an LMT report with some people claiming that the union was delivering bags of food from local food banks to certain homes on behalf of a council member running for re-election.

After that, District 7 councilman George Altgelt- who has been the most vocal- asked that the city attorney investigate whether union members were able to do this.

This Monday, city attorney Rene Benavides gave his final point of view on the situation.

“We are telling them that the definition of association business leave doesn’t meet certain things that they may have done in the past, and so I would consider that to be a misuse of association business leave.”

So, what exactly falls under association business leave? Well according to Benavides, the firefighters agreement doesn’t have a clear definition, so they looked into the government code and other agreements.

“Business leave use, leave taken in matters concerning grievances, labor disputes, wages, rates of pay, hours of work, or conditions of work affecting firefighters.”

“But, not like politicking, or tree planting, or food drives,” said Altgelt. “The government code doesn’t say it’s permissible for those things?”

“No, sir,” said Benavides.

The fire association president says they have used this type of leave in the same manner for decades.

Benavides says that the fire chief has been notified of what association business leave now means, so that it can be followed from this point on.

Overall, it cost the city roughly $41,000 for those firefighters to work at the food drives in question.

The city attorney’s office further clarified their decision in a memo saying:

“- One: the investigation is not intended as an investigation on any member of council.

- Two: Altgelt’s motion is for an appointed attorney or auditor to investigate the use of ABL by the union and cost to the city taxpayers for that use of leave.

- Three: the investigation can include an audit of ABL but ultimate legal determination is made through a grievance process, collective bargaining, or legal process.

- Lastly, the investigation should not focus on individual personnel of the fire department, those matters are handled through a grievance or legal process.”

The fire association president David Gonzalez further commented on the matter saying they welcome the investigation.

In a statement to KGNS he says in part:

“Councilman Altgelt has placed items such as this one on city council agendas going on 3 months now for the sole purpose of furthering his personal political agenda, attempting to smear our organizations reputation and discredit our love for our community.

The city attorney’s office has completed several investigations producing no conclusive or sufficiently reliable evidence that our organization was involved in any misappropriations of public funds or that we used public funds for the political gain of any particular candidate. We used appropriate leave for over 5 months to assist over 20,000 Laredo families.”

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