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La Pine firefighters union calls for Chief Supkis resignation or firing, cites behavior, other issues

(Update: Board statement, union letter to board, more on issues)

LA PINE, Ore. (KTVZ) -- The La Pine Rural Fire District’s monthly board meeting Thursday was filled with firefighters and concerned community members, hoping to talk about Fire Chief Michael Supkis and what the firefighters' union says are serious issues that should lead to his departure, one way or another.

Kevin Leehmann is the president of the Local 3387 La Pine Firefighters Union.

“Everybody seems to agree that it’s time for the chief to move on, or the board let him go,” Leehman said. 

He and the union sent a letter to the board, asking for a vote of no confidence for Supkis, due to issues with the collective bargaining agreement (talks have stalled on a new contact), the chief's behavior and leadership tendencies, time off and several other grievances.

The union also said they are preparing to file two unfair labor practice actions against the district and several grievances involving refusal to grant compensatory time off.

“One of the worst things I ever hear my chief say is, ‘Let's let the lawyers figure it out’,” Leehmann said. “We don’t need lawyers to run this department -- if we did, we should just hire one as a fire chief.”

Leehmann said they’ve lost 20% of the department, either to retirement or other opportunities, but the issues with the chief and the contract were at the forefront.

He said five La Pine firefighters resigned for jobs with the Redmond fire agency in part due to his denial of compensatory time off. Two others decided to retire.

“Most of those people didn’t want to leave, but they found themselves in a position (where) they needed to,” Leehmann said. 

With some firefighters working 48-hour shifts, the union called for Supkis to resign.

“We’ve reached a point with our chief that we feel like we can no longer continue to be ignored," Leehmann told the board during the meeting.

"I’ve been ignored. I’ve been lied to. I’ve seen it happen to our previous union members," he said. "Those seven members that left, I can’t just shut the door on -- 'Okay.' They left for a reason,” Leehmann said.

Fire District Board Director Doug Cox told Leehman: “Okay look -- let’s just kill it right now, this is not the time or place to do it.”

Cox and several other board members said they were not interested in discussing the union's letter during the public meeting.

“When I was a firefighter, when I had a problem, I ran a chain of command," Cox said. "Chain of command doesn’t seem to work sometimes, I agree with that. But until we have our executive session and work this out as a board, thank you very much for your attendance.”

Leehmann said he only sees one way for this to end.

“I don’t think it’s ever going to change until the chief resigns,” Leehmann said. 

Chief Mike Supkis declined to comment Thursday.

The fire board posted a brief statement on their website:

La Pine Rural Fire Protection Board appreciates the recent concerns expressed by the Firefighters Local #3387 Union and the public. Because we are in contract negotiations, it is not appropriate for us to comment at this time. We support our Fire Chief and Administration. We look forward to meeting with the Firefighters Local #3387 Union to further discuss their concerns.

Here's the letter sent to the fire board:

Lapine Fire District board members,

The La Pine Professional Firefighters Association Local 3387 has unanimously voted and is asking for a vote of no confidence concerning the Fire Chief of the La Pine Rural Fire Protection District.

The Union is at a point it can no longer allow him to ignore our CBA, requests to bargain, and attempts to add directives as an attempt to circumvent CBA language.

The grievances against his position include and are not limited to the following:

  1. Lack of sufficient certifications filed with the fire district as well as the Department of Public Safety, Standards, and Training, showing you're qualified for the position of Fire Chief.
  2. Lack of due regard for state law as well as the current collective bargaining agreement. Which has resulted in the Union preparing to file 2 unfair labor practice suits against the district, and over 8 grievances against compensatory time off.
  3. Lack of leadership and communication skills which has resulted in seven members leaving the fire districts service, two of which left at great financial hardship to themselves.
  4. Loss of support for the continued lawsuit over SCMC, and loss of funds. Members have felt it is not a good use of funding to spend monies on battling a regional hospital.
  5. Creating undue safety and mutual aid issues for union members and citizens by not following the County switch over and radio changes.
  6. Behavior unbecoming of your current title and position. Witnessed events of temper tantrums and verbal threats towards members to withhold benefits. Lying and placing blame.
  7. Creating undue hardship for district members during a time of personal loss.
  8. It is the belief of the local 3387 that your stonewalling, and threatening tactics have delayed the district's ability to recover from its current state.

He has lost the respect of the employees of the fire district as well as the ability to lead them. There have been multiple warnings from current, and past employees that he has ignored.

Local 3387

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Noah Chast

Noah Chast is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Noah here.

Comments

17 Comments

  1. Chain of command?? Doug Cox you work for the citizens of la pine! That’s your boss. Do your job and get rid of this worthless fire chief.

  2. Mr Cox needs to remember why he is on that board…….it’s an elected position to represent the best for the patrons of the district. Seems like it’s a pretty easy answer. You can’t have that many people leave and not realize you have an issue. Supkis has always done things his way, which has proven to not be successful.

  3. People seem to want a ‘public hanging’. That is not the way things are done in this country. An executive session where the board can hear both sides of the story is the only fair procedure. After a decision is made, then some parts can be made public. I assume the union knows that, if they are successful in getting him fired, there is always an expensive buy-out in cases of the termination of a public official on contract, who has not, at least as far as I can tell, done more than just rub a lot of people the wrong way. This article gives us zero specifics about what the complaints are.

    1. The article literally gave 8 specific complaints, and actually, yes this country routinely conducts “public hangings”, every single day in a thousand different instances. We are a cancel culture. Sounds like there are enough complaints that this matter should be handled sooner rather than later. He sounds like a bully, and the world could use less bullies in public service.

      1. The letter was added with other info the next day – check the update line and time stamp at the top.
        I defend folks whose comments predate changes. We are the most transparent media outlet – when we update we add a line at the top on what changed, much like wire services have for many years.

  4. Based on my many many years of experience with various unions in multiple locations in different types of work settings – If the union is against something or someone then the rest of us should support that same something or someone.

    1. I’m surprised that there is a union in La Pine. I thought Republicans and MAGA types hated unions. One of the favorite phrases of the politicians they vote for is “union thug”.

  5. as always the z hasn’t really gathered enough info to make an informed choice on where to stand. is the place falling apart or is it just a grab for a little bit of power. anyone can make a laundry list of claims but i’m not seeing any substantiated proof or instances mentioned. i’m not saying the chief doesn’t need to be removed, but i wouldn’t even try to form an opinion off such a one sided story backed by nothing but hearsay and opinion

  6. How about La Pine just do away with he rural fire dept. and hire a private firm to fill the need? It would more cost effective and is proven to give residents better fire protection.

    1. LOL Oh please. Private fire fighters may work for those home owners that pay the monthly fees, but there have been cases in recent memory whereby they either just let the homes of non-payers burn to the ground, or hit them up for $1000’s in charges afterward. We as a country largely got rid of private firefighting in the 19th Century because it doesn’t work. Fire is a community threat that spreads from building to building and property to property.

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