QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
The COJB was investigated by the Department of Labor due to a complaint by a former employee who was also a former VLSC member. The Department of Labor investigation discovered too many similarities between the COJB and VLSC noting that joint training, shared personnel, and especially shared leadership created a violation of FLSA. The result of this investigation was the COJB unilaterally entering voluntary compliance by back paying all COJB Ocean Rescue employees for two years that volunteered with the VLSC. In addition, the COJB decided to remove the VLSC from guarding the beach on Sundays and Holidays without consulting the VLSC on alternatives or considering the damages to the VLSC and its members. This action by the COJB created mistrust in a longstanding relationship and created a chaotic environment for all personnel volunteering/working at the American Red Cross Life Saving Corps Station.
The VLSC expended its own funds to hire their own Labor Attorney to analyze the investigation and work with the COJB to reestablish a working relationship. The VLSC’s Attorney submitted a legal summary that states if the VLSC volunteers do not work for the COJB then all FLSA violations would be resolved. This policy has been added to current VLSC Policies and shared with the COJB. In addition, the COJB drafted an operating agreement and the VLSC reviewed the agreement then submitted suggested revisions. This agreement was terminated after the first iteration due to an accusation by COJB Ocean Rescue staff member alleging harassment by VLSC volunteers. These accusations were never investigated, nor discussed with the VLSC prior to termination.
After the accusations were made the City Manager changed the locks on the American Red Cross Volunteer Life Saving Corps building therefore locking out all volunteers from a facility it did not own, build, or maintain. Peaceful compliance with the lockout was agreed upon internally by the VLSC to help facilitate resolution to the issue. This action physically shut out the volunteers and ended all discussions related to VLSC sustainability and stewardship of the Station. The VLSC’s only option was to immediately file a lawsuit against the COJB for breach of contract and damages accrued to defend the organization from the COJB actions.
Since the suit was filed the VLSC has consistently asked the COJB for mediation or to return to discussions to resolve differences. The COJB has refused mediation or further discussions with the VLSC.
The only viable action besides continuing an extensive and expensive lawsuit was to initiate a citizen led referendum to force the COJB to negotiate with the VLSC for its continued existence and to secure long-term stewardship of the Station. The referendum petitions were signed by 19% of the Jacksonville Beach registered voters in just 17 days then the petitions were submitted to the Supervisor of Elections for certification. The petitions are now certified and awaiting further action by the COJB Council to place the referendum on the ballot.
Although the VLSC has continued to reach out for coordination with the COJB amongst the attorneys on both sides the meetings to date have been short and unproductive. This coordination was intended to allow the attorneys to discuss the referendum process and answer any questions. The effort to communicate between attorneys has failed horribly and it leaves the VLSC questioning the intent of the COJB in dealing with the referendum.
The VLSC is a 110-year-old organization that is the only one of its kind in the United States. The organization’s purpose is charitable in nature, training the young people to save lives. This COJB is unique in using the public-private partnership to safeguard its most valuable asset, the beachfront, from tragic loss of life. The citizens of Jacksonville Beach should be alarmed that our government officials would dismiss this great service and dismiss the millions of dollars this service has saved the city over the last century.