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Firefighters union supports censuring fire chief, deputy chief

Duluth Fire Chief Dennis Edwards. (News Tribune file photo)

The Duluth firefighters union voted to support a draft resolution censuring Fire Chief Dennis Edwards and Deputy Chief Shawn Krizaj — a move the city of Duluth says is in response to a potential change to the union status of the assistant fire chiefs and fire marshal.

The Duluth Firefighters Local 101 unanimously approved last week to forward a draft censure resolution, expressing "severe disapproval" of Edwards and Krizaj, to the International Association of Fire Fighters for consideration at its August convention, according to a statement from the local's executive board. The board said city leaders are attempting to change employment terms and conditions without negotiating with the union, in addition to forcing the assistant fire chiefs and fire marshal out of the Local 101 and into a supervisory association.

"In just two short years, we believe that Chief Edwards and Deputy Chief Krizaj have operated the department in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Minnesota Public Employment Labor Relations Act, the Local 101 collective bargaining agreement and city policy," according to the union executive board's statement.

In its own statement about the censure resolution, the city of Duluth pointed out that the union's resolution is coming on the heels of the city's application to the Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services to determine whether the Duluth Fire Department's assistant chiefs, who are members of the union, are "supervisory employees" under the Minnesota Public Employee Labor Relations Act. The bureau is expected to hear the city's application at an administrative hearing later this summer.

"Duluth is currently the only Minnesota city of the first class that operates without a separate supervisory unit within its management structure other than a chief and deputy chief," according to the city's statement. "The current management structure does not reflect public safety organizational best practices."

Edward and Krizaj have maintained and improved the excellence of the department amid budget challenges since they stepped into the leadership roles in 2016, according to the city's statement, which added, "Change and innovation can be challenging for any organization."

City Administrator David Montgomery said the city's administration has "full faith and confidence" in Edwards and Krizaj.

"We support their efforts to improve the services provided by the Duluth Fire Department, no less than we appreciate and support the service and contributions of every member of the Duluth Fire Department. We are hopeful the city and the union can work together to build on the department's excellent reputation of service to the community," Montgomery said in a statement.

The union's executive board stated that it decided to bring the censure resolution forward at its June meeting because members believe they've exhausted all other means and nothing is changing despite many conversations between the past and present Local 101 executive board members and the city administration. The executive board noted in its statement that it could pull the resolution from consideration if conditions improve.

Edwards said in a statement that he has committed his career to the public's safety and his colleague's wellness and safety.

"I've done this through initiatives and innovations in my time as fire chief and my entire 27 years of public service. I will continue to work with Duluth firefighters to maintain and improve the excellent and trusted service that the public expects and that the Duluth Fire Department provides," Edwards said in a statement.

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