Everett Firefighters Prevail in Staffing Related Unfair Labor Practice

The Washington State Public Employment Relations Commission has ruled in favor of Everett Firefighters IAFF Local 46 on an unfair labor practice claim against the City of Everett. The December 2, 2011 ruling concluded that it was improper for the city to refuse to bargain with the firefighters over staffing reductions, brownouts, and assigning mutual aid companies to replace Everett Fire Department units.

In 2010, the city made a financially driven unilateral decision to brownout companies, reduce staffing, and utilize mutual aid departments to respond directly to incidents in Everett. The city alleged they were forced to resort to these measures to reduce spending on overtime.

The PERC concluded that the issues were mandatory subjects for bargaining, and that “the employer’s behavior was inconsistent with a willingness to bargain.” Among the notable quotes from the decision:

  • “State law requires that employers of union-represented workers give notice and provide an opportunity for collective bargaining when they want to change wages, hours or working conditions.”
  • “The employer was emphatic that it would only look at the staffing approach that it had predetermined to use. The attitude of the Mayor and the CAO/CFO clearly demonstrated to the union that bargaining was futile.”
  • “Overtime is a mandatory subject of bargaining since it involves both wages and hours.”
  • “The number of fire fighters assigned to equipment that can be deployed to an incident can directly impact fire fighter safety.”

The PERC ruled in the city’s favor on two of the union’s charges, namely the city’s continued use of private ambulances and whether emails sent by the city directly to employees was an attempt to circumvent the union.

On the ambulance issue, the commission concluded that the city’s use of private ambulances was not an unfair labor practice. The parties had engaged in some bargaining over the implementation of fire department ambulances, and while the PERC referred to it as a “close case”, the city’s continued use of private ambulance was ruled not to be an unfair labor practice.

As for the city’s decision to email employees directly with information about the brownouts and staffing reductions, the board concluded that the emails were not attempts to bargain with the employees. Rather the emails were merely intended to inform the members of decisions that had already been made, and as such did not constitute an unfair labor practice.

In making the ruling, the PERC ordered the city to reinstate the previous staffing levels and reimburse members for lost overtime. The city has until December 22, 2011 to appeal.

Here is a copy of the decision:  EverettWAUnfairLP

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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