Wooster settles legal battle with firefighter and union president

WOOSTER — A firefighter who lost his job last year will get his salary, one year’s salary and benefits back under a legal deal with the city.

Brandon Hewitt had filed a grievance about his termination of the Wooster Fire Department nearly seven months ago.

The city of Wooster fired Hewitt, also union president at Local 764, after 13 years on the force in early November, accusing him of abusing sick leave and violating COVID-19 quarantine policies. .

The decision to fire him was taken a day before the start of contract negotiations.

Termination Battle:Wooster firefighter accused of abusing sick leave and other violations calls for dismissal

Brandon Hewitt has reached a settlement with the city of Wooster after he was fired in November.  He will receive salary arrears, allowances and will be placed on paid administrative leave until June 2023.

Under the settlement agreement, the city will reverse his dismissal and place him on paid administrative leave until June 15, 2023, retaining his position with the force.

Hewitt will also receive full salary and benefits, including pension payments and health care for nearly seven months since his layoff.

For Wooster, the settlement was the best option for the city and firefighters, said John Scavelli, the city’s director of law.

“When weighing the benefits and costs of pursuing arbitration of Mr. Hewitt’s grievance, settlement was the most effective and efficient means of resolution,” Scavelli said in an email.

The settlement comes as collective bargaining negotiations enter their seventh month and another round of mediation.

Resolution after six months

A fire station in Wooster where Brandon Hewitt worked.

For Hewitt, the settlement came as a surprise. The city presented the offer to its lawyer the day before the arbitration on March 25.

They initially declined, “but it was a good offer,” Hewitt said.

During the November-March legal battle, Hewitt received financial assistance from the International Association of Fire Fighters based in Washington, DC, he says.

Fire:Arson suspected in fire at same Wooster property of fatal shooting last Friday

“It was a big help because our local union voted to pay over $30,000 in legal costs, but the IAFF picked up those costs,” he said.

The organization also provided free legal advice. They sent Hewitt and his attorney their legal team’s opinion on the matter.

Because he was dismissed the day before the scheduled date for collective bargaining negotiations, the IAFF said, “there is sufficient evidence to suggest that At Chef Saley the reason for President Hewitt’s firing was due to his union leadership, not his alleged violation of COVID-19 protocols. »

The city said he violated COVID-19 quarantine policies on September 29, 2021, while on continuous sick leave from September 26 to October 1.

“It is city policy that when an employee is on continuous sick leave, they adhere to health restrictions throughout that continuous sick leave,” Scavelli said.

Resolve alleged past abuses

According to the City of Wooster, this photograph shows Brandon Hewitt entering Northwestern Middle School while on sick leave.

Two cases of family medical leave have been listed as possible abuses in Hewitt’s past.

From October 10, 2020 to December 21, 2020, Hewitt requested 17 days of family medical leave. This represents 24 hours of service per shift, which equates to 408 hours of total free time.

In 2013, he took a total of 288 hours off in August, or nearly 10 days, including 264 hours off work.

Salary increase:Green school board approves pay rise for teachers under new three-year contract

According to city records, 2013 fire chief Robert Eyler said a rumor was circulating in the department that Hewitt was training for a bodybuilding competition.

Hewitt, who declined to comment on the matter in November due to the ongoing legal battle, denies training for a competition at the time.

“I was recovering from a torn meniscus I got at work; I was having physical therapy,” Hewitt said.

As for 2020, he said, he underwent major surgery to remove two tumors from his chest.

Although he said he felt like the department was looking for him, he still has respect for the city and the fire department.

“I have no hard feelings against the city,” Hewitt said. “Things have worked out for everyone, and I wish the best for the city.”

Collective agreement negotiations underway

Negotiations for the city’s fire department contract are continuing despite other contracts having been completed months ago.

Hewitt, who was unanimously elected president of Local 764 in late December, is leading the negotiations with other union representatives.

The city and the union have agreed on almost all but one issue.

Crime:Police deny reports of active shooter in Wooster are ‘false’, suspect arrested

“We want firefighters to be paid the same rate as the police department,” Hewitt said. “But the city doesn’t want that because it would mean the firefighters would get more money because they work longer hours than the police.”

Scavelli said the city offered a similar package to other bargaining contracts, but the union rejected it.

“However, the union is fully within its rights to reject said offer and proceed with the bargaining process in accordance with Ohio state law,” he said. “In this matter, the city and the union engaged in unsuccessful mediation and are scheduled to hold an investigative hearing on June 27, 2022.”

Contact Bryce by email at [email protected]

On Twitter: @Bryce_Buyakie

Teresa E. Burton