Its been a long year for Greater Chambersburg Area Paid Fire Fighters IAFF Local 1813, but a hearing officer for the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board has finally added some sanity to what had been a series of labor setbacks.
Stating “it is hard to reach any other conclusion”, hearing officer Thomas P. Leonard, found the Borough of Chambersburg committed an unfair labor practice by disciplining the union president and vice president for asking IAFF members in other fire departments to not volunteer in Chambersburg.
Apparently the legal principles Leonard relied upon were not as obvious to borough officials and even a Count of Common Pleas judge who concluded that union president Patrick R. Martin and vice president Scott McNew acted illegally in sending letters to other IAFF members. President Martin received a suspension and VP McNew was terminated.
The point of contention between the parties was whether the act of asking union members not to volunteer constitutes encouraging a “secondary boycott”, something that is clearly illegal under most labor relations laws. As a student of labor law… in fact as a college instructor who teaches classes on collective bargaining, I am struggling to understand how a “secondary boycott” would apply in this situation… if anything it is a primary boycott… but it is not really even a boycott per se – it is one union member engaging in concerted activities with another union member. Same union, different local. If anyone out there see’s it as a secondary boycott – then by all means help us out and post an explanation below. I cannot help but see the previous decisions in this case (prior to the Leonard decision) as part of a long line of anti-employee anti-labor decisions that seem all too common these days. If someone is anti-labor to begin with then it is easy for them to say sure… yeah… secondary boycott. I like it. Close enough!!!! But when you get into the details, its not really there on the facts.
As part of Leonard’s proposed order, which will become effective in 20 days absent a reversal by the full PLRB, the borough has been ordered to “cease and desist” from “interfering with, restraining or coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in the PLRA” as well as “discriminat[ing] against employees in regard to hire or tenure of employment or any term or condition of employment to encourage or discourage membership in any labor organization.”
The borough has been ordered to rescind President Martin’s suspension and reimburse him for back pay. No word on whether VP McNew will be reinstated.
Here is an earlier posting on the case, before the secondary boycott argument became the prominent issue.
February 4, 2013 UPDATE: Here are the hearing officer’s decisions. The secondary boycott decision does help clear up the issue somewhat – and explains that basis for the conclusion it is not a secondary boycott.