Rogue Valley Fire Department Staff Exodus: Unfair Practices By Management Alleged

JACKSON COUNTY, Ore. — Lawyers with the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) union in Oregon’s Jackson County- IAFF 2596, say that Fire Chief Charles Hanley of District #5 is to blame for a staffing shortage in the Jackson County Fire District. The department serves over 20,000 residents in unincorporated areas of Ashland, Phoenix, and Talent.

UPDATE: 3 Fire District #5 Board Members Resign Leaving No Quorum And Claims Of Collusion

Facing years of reported inappropriate conduct, new details emerged this week about allegations in the district leveled against Hanley. It is alleged by the union that he ignored an investigation into bullying and harassment taking place in the district. They also claim that in the last two years, 5 union employees left the district and at least 4 more are expected to quit soon. The union confirmed that low staffing could jeopardize the public’s safety as a shortage of people delays fire response time.

Papers from the union’s legal team sent to the district board- including a letter drafted by Sarah Drescher of Tedesco Law Group, said that one of the causes of the shortage is Hanley’s unfair promotion and hiring practices. They allege that Hanley slanted his interviews in a way that enabled him to reject candidates- an action that is not in line with the district’s legal requirement to hire on merit and caused unreasonable delays in the hiring process, resulting in a loss of trust in the system.

Further allegations are that Hanley canceled or denied employee vacation in a way that the union says appears retaliatory and had no proper justification. In her letter, Drescher also said that Hanley contacted a female firefighter directly to discuss harassment, suggesting that the female firefighter could work from home or be placed on administrative leave- if she felt harassed.

Additionally, Hanley hired a third-party consultant to investigate claims of harassment and bullying in the district made by the staff, but the union’s lawyers say that before the investigation into improper workplace conduct had been completed, Hanley told the investigator that he had already handled the issues. Drescher said that the Chief failed to address this inappropriate conduct and that this is still ongoing.

In reply, Hanley said in a statement that the district takes its responsibility to treat all employees fairly seriously and indicated that matters involving employees- particularly where discipline or accusations of wrongdoing are involved are seldom simple. He said that a thorough review needs to take place to weigh the facts and ensure a fair outcome for all employees.

IAFF’s representative indicated that they are willing to address issues through negotiation rather than litigation. At a special meeting of the fire district board on February 20, board member Derek Volkart attempted to have the chief put on administrative leave while the allegations were investigated, but this was unsuccessful.


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