Providence – The Rhode Island Superior Court today filed an Administrative Order consolidating 7 labor cases involving the North Kingstown Fire Department, all actions to be heard before Judge Brian J. Stern. The order signed by Presiding Justice Alice Gibney, assigns all matters in the ongoing dispute between Town and Union to Stern who is familiar with the underlying matters.
“We are due in Kent County Superior Court at 3:30 pm today,” said Raymond Furtado, President NKFFA IAFF Local 1651. “Judge Stern will be hearing the cases. That is the information I have.”
The Rhode Island State Labor Board (SLRB) on Monday, filed a petition in Washington County Superior Court against the Town of North Kingstown seeking enforcement of the board’s recent decision in favor of the town’s firefighters union.
The 10-page petition requests an enforcement order be issued in support of Friday’s SLRB order restoring the town’s fire department to its 4-platoon, schedule and wage structure. The SLRB action in favor of the firefighters union spurred the Town to action with the battle taking place on two fronts.
“There are actions taking in place in two counties right now,” said Elizabeth Weins, attorney for the Union on Monday. “The SLRB filed a petition in Washington County to enforce their order because of the requirement to file in the jurisdiction of the action. The Town filed a Motion to Stay the SLRB order in Providence County.”
The SLRB restoration order returns the North Kingstown FIrefighters Association (NKFFA) IAFF Local 1651 to its regular schedule as known at the end of their 2010-2011 contract and prior to the Town’s March 11, 2012 implementation of unilateral changes to the fire department structure.
The SLRB further ordered the town on Friday, to pay the firefighters all “wages that should have been paid” including regular, overtime and holiday pay that would have been required had the unilateral changes not been made. The restitution includes a 12% annual interest rate accrual for the period June 14, 2012 through date of payment.
On Monday, the Town’s legal counsel filed a Motion to Stay the Labor Board’s order, in addition to an Amended Complaint in a parallel action in Providence County Superior Court alleging open meetings violations on behalf of the SLRB.
While the court actions were being filed, the Town Council was convening an emergency Executive Session at town hall to”hold an emergency meeting to address an unexpected occurrence that requires immediate action to protect the public.”
“I don’t know how the town council could say that it was an unexpected occurrence when Liz Dolan has been saying all along that they expected the Labor Board to rule as they did,” said Raymond Furtado, Union President.
Dolan, sitting as council president, made a brief statement regarding the dual actions before adjourning the Council Session with a motion to reconvene at 6:00 pm on Monday evening. She and council member Carol Hueston, remained at the council table to answer questions, although Dolan was the only party to speak.
“Is there a possibility at the end of the day that there will be some tax consequences for taxpayers,” said Dolan. ” Perhaps, but the savings may wash out. That’ not what we want. We believe what we’ve done was legal under our charter. We strongly believe that as a council that if we don’t have the right to do what we did, then it is not the elected body that can represent the taxpayers.”
When asked what the current payout to firefighters would be should the SLRB order take effect, Dolan was unclear. Referring to the Union’s estimate of $2.5 million before interest calculations, Dolan would not commit.
“Roughly. That’s what I’ve seen,” she said. “Their figure, I don’t have any confirmation of that.”
Another figure that is unclear is the amount of legal feels paid to the Town’s legal counsel since the implementation scenario was set forth. The Union (NKFFA IAFF Local 1651), according to Furtado, requested the information several weeks ago. with the town asking for an extension to produce the final numbers. The information has not been received as yet.
Rep. Doreen Costa (R- Dist. 31) disagreed with the Town’s decision.
“We need to stop it now because unfortunately the taxpayers are on the hook for the legal fees. Whether you like the decision or you don’t like the decision isn’t the point,” said Costa. “It is just going to cost taxpayers money.”
“We need to put a stop to this and it needs to be now,” she said. “The taxpayers – how much more are you going to put on the taxpayers? How much more expense are they going to incur. Whether you like the decision or not, it is the decision. Do what the court and the labor board told you to do.”
It is unclear as to who will be representing the town as Attorney Kinder is court excused.