by TRACEY C. O’NEILL
North Kingstown – The North Kingstown Firefighters Association (NKFFA) Local 1651 (Union) is headed back to court today. This trip may have the Union and Town of North Kingstown (Town) being heard at two separate venues, with the parties scheduled in Superior Court before Judge Brian P. Stern and emergency motions filed before the Rhode Island Supreme Court in an up and down battle over the State Labor Relations Board (SLRB) recent ruling.
The SLRB on September 27 found that the Town acted in bad faith and outside the parameters of collective bargaining when it unilaterally implemented departmental structure, shift and wage changes for its fire department and personnel in March 2012.
The Town actions resulted in multiple Unfair Labor Practices complaints, commencing a litany of litigation resulting in Union favorable decisions at both the Labor Relations Board and Superior Court levels.
The most recent ruling by the SLRB ordered the immediate return of the Town’s fire department personnel to the structure as known at the end of their 2010-2011 contract. The ruling further awarded the firefighers all back pay and benefits as would have been earned under the prior structure.
Blocking the Union’s compliance with the SLRB decision is a Stay order from the Supreme Ct., stemming from Stern’s “Unring the Bell” order. The Supreme Stay temporarily blocked the Union’s return to work and compensation award pending an SLRB decision. The “Unring the Bell” order from Stern in December 2012 also returned the department to its previous structure and awarded back pay and benefits to Union personnel.
The Union estimates damages to the department in excess of $2 million and climbing. The Town has been non-committal as to an actual dollar amount and claims that its actions saved the taxpayers $1 million.
The Town in a partial release of records requested by the Union has its present legal fees listed at more than $450,000. The Town filed an objection to the Union’s Motion to Vacate requesting that the court consider a lengthier appeal process as opposed to a direct resolution and/or instruction to the lower court.