Syracuse Firefighters Prevail Over Right to Bargain Discipline

Syracuse Firefighters, IAFF Local 280, won an important victory in the Onondaga County Supreme Court last week in terms of maintaining their right to bargain over disciplinary matters. The city took the position that under recent case law, disciplinary matters were exempted from bargaining under the New York’s Second Class Cities Law.

The union filed file last September seeking a declaratory judgment that “the Second Class Cities Law does not apply to discipline involving bargaining unit members that make-up the Union and instead discipline must be administered pursuant to the [2018-2020] Collective Bargaining Agreement agreed to by the City and the Union.”

The city counterclaimed seeking the opposite declaratory judgment that “(a) [the City is] no longer permitted to collectively bargain issues of discipline with the Union; (b) the provisions of the current CBA between the City and the Union relating to discipline are no longer valid; and (c) . . . the disciplinary procedures set forth in the Second Class Cities Law applies to the Fire Department.”

The city’s position was premised on three New York Court of Appeals rulings, Matter of Patrolmen’s Benevolent Assn. of City of N.Y., Inc. v. New York State Public Employee Relations Board, 6 N.Y.3d 563 (2006); Matter of Wallkill v. Civil Service Employees Association, Inc., 19 N.Y.3d 1066 (2012); and Matter of City of Schenectady v. New York State Public Employee Relations Board, 30 N.Y.3d 109 (2017).

In a decision that is only suitable for the eyes of the keenest of the Legal Eagles, Judge Deborah H. Karalunas concluded that the city misread the three cases, and that discipline is to remain a bargainable subject for Syracuse firefighters under the Second Class Cities Law. The reasoning is complicated (bordering on painful), touching on the interplay between home rule charters, civil service law, the Taylor Act (collective bargaining in the public sector), and the Second Class Cities Law. Attorneys and those firefighters in law school, have at it. For the firefighters out there… here is what you need to know: the union won, the city lost.

Here is a copy of the decision.

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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