Idaho Fire District Sues Union Over Challenge to Dismissal of Probationary Firefighter

An Idaho fire district has filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that would block the processing of a grievance over the termination of a probationary firefighter. The suit was filed by the Mica Kidd Island Fire Protection District naming IAFF Local 5005 as the defendant.

The fire district filed the action in US District Court for the District of Idaho claiming that the federal court has jurisdiction to hear the case under the National Labor Relations Act. The problem: The NLRA governs private sector labor relations while the fire district is a public sector entity.

If we can get past that jurisdictional issue (not the first time we have seen this kind of error crop up), the suit contends that probationary firefighter Austin Bedwell was let go without cause prior to the end of his one year probationary period, and as a probationary firefighter is not eligible to challenge his dismissal under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. The union filed a grievance over the termination.

According to the complaint, the union claims the contractual language that creates two classes of employees (probationary and non-probationary) is illegal and unenforceable. Quoting the union’s position from the complaint:

  • In addition to the violations of the collective bargaining agreement, we believe the language in the agreement that separates probationary from non-probationary members creates two classes of employees and may be illegal under Idaho’s Right to Work statute as well the U.S. Supreme Courts’ Janus vs. ASFCME ruling in 2018. While this has not been challenged in court yet, we believe the intent of the statute and the ruling is to prevent the creation of different classes of employees and the rights afforded to them.

In response to the union’s position, the fire district contends:

  • There is a substantial controversy of immediate sufficiency and reality in that based on Local 5005’s interpretation of Idaho statute and Janus vs. Am. Fed’n of State, Cnty., and Mun. Empls., Council 31, 138 S.Ct. 2448 (2018), it contends the probationary provisions of the contract are void, and gives it a basis to grieve Mr. Bedwell’s termination as though he were covered in the CBA despite the express terms of the CBA excluding him from its provisions.
  • The Plaintiff is entitled to a judicial declaration that the probationary terms of the contract apply to probationary employees, and specifically to Mr. Bedwell, and his termination was in accordance with the express terms of the CBA.

Assuming the jurisdictional issues can be addressed, that case raises some interesting questions about whether Idaho’s Right to Work law permits multiple classes of employees. Regular readers will note this is the second case brought under this law in the past week. Here is a link to the other one.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

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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