Chambersburg Battle Ends in Settlement

The three year battle between the Greater Chambersburg Area Paid Fire Fighters IAFF Local 1813 and the Borough of Chambersburg has finally been resolved with word of an agreement that reinstates a wrongfully terminated firefighter/union vice-president and settles numerous pending civil actions, unfair labor practice charges, grievances and appeals.

The complicated case began 2012 when the Borough disciplined several officers of Local 1813 because they threatened to bring (and actually brought) IAFF disciplinary charges against IAFF members from other locals who had been volunteering in one of several volunteer fire companies in Chambersburg.

It all began when Local 1813 President Pat Martin was suspended for allegedly encouraging a “secondary boycott” by sending a letter to IAFF members in October, 2011 reminding them of their obligations under the IAFF constitution and bylaws not to volunteer in the Borough. At the time the Borough was seeking to lay off members of Local 1813 and rely more heavily on volunteers. The local filed unfair labor charges with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board against the borough over President Martin’s suspension.

In early 2012, Local 1813’s Vice President Scott McNew was terminated when he initiated internal IAFF charges against 11 IAFF members who ignored President Martin’s request. The Borough characterized VP McNew’s conduct as encouraging a “secondary boycott”, something that is prohibited under the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act. That prompted a second round of unfair labor practice charges to be filed against the Borough.

In October, 2013, President Martin’s original discipline over his letter was overturned by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board who specifically found that Martin had engaged in protected concerted activities that did not constitute encouraging a secondary boycott. In August, 2014 the PLRB ruled in favor of VP McNew, and ordered his immediate reinstatement. The Borough opted to appeal the case to Commonwealth Court.

On December 4, 2014, a three-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court concluded 2-1 that the Pennsylvania State Labor Relations Board mis-interpreted the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Act on the secondary-boycott issue, finding the Borough was not guilty of an unfair labor practice. That ruling, which incidentally went against the great weight of law in the United States on the issue of secondary boycotts as well as against the deference that should be given to labor board interpretations of labor relations matters, was in the process of being appealed when the settlement was reached.

Among the items agreed to in the settlement:

  • VP McNew’s termination is converted into a 33-month-long leave of absence with no-reference to a suspension or discipline
  • The borough will provide McNew with an $18,000 payment into his 457(b) pension fund and preserves his benefits and seniority
  • McNew’s will have a minimum of two weeks to return to work as a Chambersburg firefighter in order to provide notice to his current employer
  • All reference to discipline will be cleared from President Martin’s personnel file
  • The Chambersburg Fire Department will not reduce manpower as the result of McNew’s reinstatement until at least Dec. 31, absent resignations or disciplinary terminations

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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