Seven North Kingstown Fire Department Cases Consolidated

In a highly unusual move, the Presiding Justice of the Superior Courts in the State of Rhode Island, Judge Alice B. Gibney, today consolidated seven different Superior Court lawsuits that have arisen out of the efforts of the town of North Kingstown to unilaterally restructure its fire department from four shifts (42 hours per week) to three shifts (56 hours per week), and assigned them to a single justice, Judge Brian J. Stern.

Judge Gibney’s action came on the heels of a State Labor Board ruling last Friday finding the town guilty of unfair labor practices for bargaining in bad faith and unilaterally changing mandatory subjects for bargaining. The Labor Board ordered the town to immediately restore the work shifts back to the four platoon system

On Monday, after the town threatened to terminate firefighters who tried to return to their normal hours, the State Labor Board filed an action in Washington County Superior Count seeking an injunction to enforce its order. At the same time the town went to Providence County Superior Court seeking a stay of the board’s ruling.

The other five pending cases stem from actions between the town and North Kingstown Firefighters, IAFF Local 1651, over the past two years over the unnegotiated change in hours and working conditions. The town filed three of suits, and two were filed by the firefighters.

Judge Stern has had extensive involvement in the cases, having ruled several times in favor of the firefighters in their efforts to have the town’s actions declared illegal. He had previously ordered the town to return the firefighters' work schedule to four shifts – 42 hours per week, but was overruled by the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

Here is copy of the court’s order. NK Fire Admin Order

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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