Non-Renewal of Fire Chief’s Contract Prompts ULP Complaint

The decision not to renew a fire chief’s contract has prompted a Massachusetts firefighter local to file an unfair labor practice complaint against the town. For those who are not familiar with labor relations, this is not a very common occurrence. In fact, I cannot recall ever seeing or hearing of a union filing a ULP complaint over the non-renewal of a fire chief’s contract, hence why we are covering it.

At the center of the case is a decision by the Select Board of the Town Marshfield not to renew the contract of Fire Chief Jeffrey Simpson. The board made the decision at its public meeting on March 11, 2024. That decision, in and of itself, would not be an unfair labor practice. The problem leading to the ULP complaint arose Select Board members made public comments  indicating that the sole reason for the non-renewal of Chief Simpson’s contract was because he was viewed as being too close to the union.

The Patriot Ledger quoted board member Stephen Darcy as saying that Chief Simpson is a “good man who’s been taken advantage of” and that “the union leadership is not in charge of the Marshfield Fire Department.” It is not clear what other specific comments may have contributed to the problem.

According to the complaint filed by Marshfield firefighters, IAFF Local 2568:

  • These public statements and the unanimous vote by the board indicate that the Town hopes to exert control the bargaining relationship between the Union and the Town moving forward, and with it the Union’s rights under the Law.
  • These public comments by members of the Marshfield Selectboard amount to conduct that may reasonably be said to tend to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the free exercise of their rights under M.G.L. c. 150E § 2.
  • Importantly, the motivation nor the effect of such comments are at issue in this analysis, merely the objective impacts of the employer’s conduct on a reasonable employee.

Local 2568 has asked the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations to issue a cease-and-desist order, as well as an order to “make whole.” It is not clear whether this means the Town will have to extend Chief Simpson’s contract. 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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