Ohio Firefighters Sue to Force Arbitration of COVID Sick Leave Grievance

Youngstown Professional Firefighters, IAFF Local 312, has filed suit against the City of Youngstown seeking an order compelling the city to arbitrate implementation of a change to quarantine procedures for COVID 19 exposures. The suit follows three years of labor-management discord resulting in over 45 grievances, and three unfair labor practices charges against the city.

The new procedure requires firefighters who are exposed to COVID 19, to quarantine at home using their own sick time, despite having no symptoms and testing negative. It also requires members exposed at work to use sick time. The procedure was unilaterally implemented by the city, prompting the union to file a grievance in January, 2022. The grievance alleged:

  • There are two issues that are addressed within this grievance. The first pertains to members of Local 312 who were ordered by The City to quarantine at their own expense. This resulted in those members using their own sick time, thus causing them to lose their wages and benefits referenced above. These members were not sick; they were healthy and asymptomatic.
  • The second issue pertains to members who were exposed to fellow firefighters while on duty, who tested positive, or were in direct contact with a COVID positive person on a call. These members were then ordered to use sick leave and then subsequently tested positive themselves, then ordered to quarantine and use their own sick time.
  • By ordering members to quarantine (on their own time) who did not contract COVID, The City has penalized those members for being at work doing their job. The issue is not the members being responsibly quarantined, it is that they are forced to use their contractually earned benefits in order to comply with The City’s order to quarantine.
  • Those members who tested positive after having a workplace exposure are also being penalized for doing their job. They contracted COVID after being exposed at work, then were required to use their contractually earned benefits to comply with the quarantine. This is an occupational disease exposure and therefore qualifies for IOD leave.

The city initially appeared willing to arbitrate the grievance. After a neutral arbitrator was appointed and as the parties were finalizing hearing dates, the city revealed its intention to contest the arbitrability of issues. Since that point, the city has refused to arbitrate the matter, prompting Local 312 to seek a court order compelling arbitration.

An article in the Vindicator outlines the unfortunate labor history between the parties.

Here is a copy of the complaint, filed in Mahoning County Court of Common Pleas.

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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