North Kingstown Files Hail Mary Suit to Block Labor Board Ruling

The seemingly simple case about whether an employer can unilaterally add 14 extra hours to its employees’ workweek without bargaining… an issue so simple that even those who never studied labor law “get it” once they understand the principles involved… has taken yet another bizarre turn toward complexity.

In anticipation of a written decision from the Rhode Island State Labor Board that will once again tell the town of North Kingstown it acted illegally in ordering its firefighters to go from 42 hours per week to 56 hours a week without bargaining, the town has filed suit in Superior Court seeking to prevent the Board from issuing it’s ruling.

The case has already worked its way through the Rhode Island court system once – with several rulings favoring the union coming at the Superior Court level, only to be set back at the Supreme Court level on a rather strange decision that the trial judge somehow granted the union a remedy it did not request. … More on that ruling here.

A month ago, the State Labor Board found consistent with the Superior Court ruling (and virtually every book ever written on collective bargaining) that the town cannot unilaterally change the hours of its employees without bargaining. A written decision formalizing the ruling was promised in 60 days. More on that ruling here.

The town opted not to wait, filing a 26 page suit against the State Labor Board last Monday alleging that it failed to follow its own rules in rending its decision. The suit seeks a temporary restraining order against the labor board to block the issuance of its decision in favor of the union.

More on the story.

And BTW… here is one we missed from last month. The long-suffering North Kingstown Firefighters, IAFF Local 1651 were victorious at the State Labor Board on another unfair labor practice charge against the town.

Are the taxpayers in North Kingstown paying attention to all this? Or is the truth getting obscured by the complexity and the rhetoric.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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