Washington Union Seeks Injunction to Block Contracting Out

An IAFF local in Washington state has filed suit seeking an injunction to block a fire district from contracting out fire protection services to a neighboring city. Local 2878 has filed suit against King County Fire District #45 dba Duvall Fire alleging violations of the Public Employees’ Collective Bargaining Act and the Open Public Meetings Act.

The suit was filed October 9, 2023 in King County Superior Court. The facts are complicated and are provided here in abbreviated form. Quoting from the complaint:

  • On or about January 11, 2023, the District issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) from public agencies to provide the District with fire and emergency medical services for a period of at least five years, including all fire suppression, emergency medical service, hazardous materials response, technical rescue, and disaster response within the jurisdictional boundaries of the District.
  • On or about February 7, 2023, the Redmond Fire Department (Redmond) submitted a proposal to the District in response to the RFP.
  • The proposal provides that the District’s firefighters will be incorporated into Redmond, with full integration of workforces occurring within one year, resulting in the District’s current firefighters being given “potential new units and assignments.”
  • On or about May 17, 2023, the Board voted to proceed with discussions to contract out fire department services to either Eastside Fire and Rescue (Eastside) or Redmond, with the decision to be announced at a meeting of the Board on June 28, 2023.
  • On or about June 9, 2023, the Union wrote the Board requesting to bargain over the decision to contract out work performed by the District’s firefighters and the impact of that decision.
  • On or about June 13, 2023, the Chair of the Board wrote the Union stating that the District would engage in impact bargaining over the contracting out of fire department services.
  • On or about June 17, 2023, the Union wrote the Board reiterating its request to engage in decisional bargaining prior to the contracting out of fire department services performed by the bargaining unit.
  • On or about June 28, 2023, the Board voted 2-1 to award a contract for fire department services to Redmond and voted 2-1 to engage in impact bargaining with the Union.
  • Firefighters employed by Redmond are represented by another union, IAFF Local 2829, and work under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement with terms and conditions of employment that differ from those set out in the CBA between the District 45 and Local 2878.
  • On or about July 5, 2023, the Union filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Public Relations Employment Commission (PERC) in which it alleged the District had refused to engage in collective bargaining with Local 2878 over its decision to contract out fire department services performed by the District’s firefighters in violation of RCW 41.56.140(4).
  • At a special meeting of the Board on July 7, 2023, the Board stated that its prior decision to commence negotiations for a contract with Redmond had no lawful impact because Redmond had rescinded its offer prior to the Board making its decision, but that Redmond had subsequently submitted a new letter of interest in contracting with the District.
  • The Board voted unanimously to rescind the prior motion made at their meeting on June 28, 2023. It then voted 2 to 1 to commence negotiations for a contract for services with Redmond.
  • On or about July 11, 2023, PERC issued a Cause of Action Statement finding that the facts alleged by the Union in its complaint stated a cause of action and ordering the District to file an answer.
  • Washington’s state employee collective bargaining statute makes it an unfair labor practice for an employer to “interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed” in the law or to “refuse to engage in collective bargaining with the certified exclusive bargaining representatives.”
  • [I]f a particular topic is a mandatory subject of bargaining, an employer may not make changes to that mandatory subject unless and until it has fulfilled its bargaining obligation.
  • For mandatory subjects, the employer must generally engage in bargaining over its decision, and not merely the impacts of its decision, and the employer is generally prohibited from implementing the decision until its bargaining obligation has been fulfilled.
  • For groups subject to interest arbitration, this means that an employer generally must maintain the status quo and may not implement a change to a mandatory subject of bargaining unless and until it reaches an agreement with the exclusive bargaining representative, or an interest arbitrator issues an award granting the change sought by the employer.
  • The decision to contract an agency’s fire protection work to another agency is a mandatory subject of bargaining where the entity contracting out retains some control over the work to be contracted out.
  • By proceeding with plans to subcontract out bargaining unit work to the City of Redmond, which will involve the laying off of all bargaining unit employees and re-hiring of those employees by the City of Redmond, and by failing to bargain to an agreement with Local 2878 over the same, the Defendant violated RCW 41.56.140(1) and (4).
  • Since Local 2878 is likely to succeed on the merits of its claims, Local 2878 and its bargaining unit members will be irreparably harmed by allowing these violations to continue, and the harm to Local 2878 and its bargaining unit members outweighs any harm to Defendant, the Court should enjoin Defendant from unilaterally changing bargaining unit members’ working conditions without bargaining, interfering and directly dealing with unit members, or skimming unit members’ historical work.

The suit also claims the district’s board violated the state’s Open Public Meetings Act on four separate occasions, each of which involved decision making relevant to the contracting out. As a result, Local 2878 is asking the court to order the district to maintain the status quo, and declare all of the decision making relating to contracting out on the four dates in question to be declared null and void.

Here is a copy of the complaint.

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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