Labor Board Issues Another Complaint Against North Kingstown

On the heals of the Town Council bypassing the union and taking a settlement offer directly to individual firefighters, the Rhode Island State Labor Relations Board has filed yet another unfair labor practice complaint against the Town of North Kingstown at the request of North Kingstown Firefighters, IAFF Local 1651

This marks the fourth unfair labor practice complaint filed against the town since it unilaterally increased the firefighters hours by 14 per week with no additional compensation. The union has prevailed on the previous three.

The latest complaint alleges that on March 27, 2014 the Town Council sent letters directly to the membership of Local 1651 urging them to accept the terms of a proposed settlement to end a protracted legal battle that will potentially cost taxpayers millions.

Not surprising, the parties disagree on what led to the Council’s actions, with each side accusing the other of not being honest about the cause for the latest breakdown in negotiations. For an in-depth view of that issue, see TracyC’s take.

To those not familiar with labor relations 101, an employer is required to negotiate exclusively with the duly elected representatives of the workforce. Labor relations acts, including Rhode Island’s, use the term “exclusive representative” to punctuate the fact that the employer must bargain with the union and only the union. Circumventing the union and dealing directly with the membership is one of the classic examples often cited in basic labor law textbooks as an unfair labor practice.

The fact that the law in this area is so settled – apparently stood as no deterrent to the Town Council, who have made a practice of thumbing their nose at basic labor law principles. They have pinned their hopes on the Rhode Island Supreme Court and the possibility that the court will overturn decades of settled law. I suppose the Council probably figures they have nothing to lose. They have lost at every turn thus far, so what is another loss in the big scheme of things.

Here is a copy of the complaint: ULP-6137 p.1

More on the story.

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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