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Firefighters and Town Square Off Over Stern’s Decision

One more trip to the state’s highest court may follow

North Kingstown – The Town of North Kingstown responded to Judge Brian P. Stern’s ruling in favor of the town’s firefighters on Tuesday. The judge’s ruling came as no surprise said Daniel Kinder, counsel for the Town in an email to members of the press.

After all, Judge Stern already ruled against the Town in December of 2012.

The Town reasoned that in upholding a State Labor Relations Board (SLRB) Unfair Labor Practices ruling against the town, the judge was simply upholding his own previous “Unring the Bell” decision, subsequently adopted by the Labor Board.

“The court’s decision is no surprise. The Labor Board adopted Judge Stern’s prior decision in its decision.  Now, Judge Stern has upheld that decision, again. The Supreme Court, however, has stayed Judge Stern’s prior decision, and Judge Stern has stayed this decision, pending further consideration by the Supreme Court,” said Daniel K. Kinder.

Liz Dolan, Town Council President concurred with Kinder.

“Decision was fully expected, as was Judge Stern’s stay pending Supreme Court review,” she wrote after Stern’s ruling.

The Judge’s ruling against the Town in December 2012, ordered the Town to restore the fire department structure to that existing prior to its unilateral implementation of wage, shift and platoon structures made on March 4, 2012.

Unilateral changes come at a cost to the town

The restitution, ordered by both the SLRB and Stern carries a “$2.8 million and climbing” price tag according to Raymond Furtado, President IAFF NKFFA Local 1651.

North Kingstown Rep. Doreen Costa (R-Dist31) agreed with the court.

“The Town needs to end this now. They need to listen to the Judge and the State Labor Relations Board. They should have listened to them before. They can’t win this fight and the expense of it is going to be on the backs of the taxpayers,” she said. “Unfortunately, the taxpayers are going to pay for it all.”

The State Labor Relations Board filed Unfair Labor Practices complaints against the Town finding bad faith bargaining on the town’s behalf and ordering every firefighter to be made whole, including all back pay and benefits owed. The changes, made outside the purview of collective bargaining and in opposition to the statutorily constructed Firefighter’s Arbitration Act were deemed unlawful by the court.

The SLRB, after joining the Union and Town in a jurisdictional roller coaster ride through the courts and administrative processes, ruled against the Town. The SLRB decision supported Judge Stern’s Unring the Bell ruling, also ordering a return to shift and platoon structure as known at the end of the 2010-2011 contract.

Union President, Raymond Furtado, in an interview on Sunday evening, responded to the Town’s comments.

“The response from the Town’s attorney following their latest loss in Superior Court is rambling and delusional in nature,” said Union President Raymond Furtado in a statement on Monday. “It is vindictive in tone and is a stark departure from the type of release we’ve seen from Mr. Kinder following the Town’s multiple other losses. Further, it is devoid of fact in nearly all respects. The assertions that we insist on being “paid two-million dollars before we will talk” and that “the experts for both sides agreed that this work schedule is safer” are blatant misrepresentations of fact.”

New Government formed

51580019Kinder’s email further indicated that the Judge’s decision created a new government run by firefighters.

“The decision sets up the fire fighter’s union as a branch of government that can veto the lawful actions of a municipal government, taken to protect all its citizens in time of economic crisis.” ~ Daniel Kinder, Esq. 

The Judge’s decision, said Kinder,  was not only contrary to law, but to the Rhode Island Constitution and Town’s Charter.

The aversion that the firefighters were somehow in control of negotiations, holding veto powers contradicts the actuality of the current situation, the Town’s own implementation of “unilateral changes” and  it’s veto of a signed Tentative Contract Agreement in February 2013.

The court’s decision addressed the Charter arguments at length rendering them “tautological and without merit.”

Perhaps one of the more puzzling statements from Kinder averred that experts for the Town and Union agreed that the “current work schedule in the fire department is safer than the old one was.”

Reading Between the Lines

“[If] the experts for both sides agreed, how then did the Town lose the issue in arbitration” Furtado asked. “Moreover, why would we so adamantly oppose the change? Again, only a modicum of common sense need be applied to the Town’s spin to expose it for what it is.”

NKFFA TA 1-30-13Furtado further indicated that the Town’s response was more smoke and mirrors rhetoric than fact.

“Further, the release raises genuine concerns regarding the accuracy and legitimacy with which our numerous settlement offers are being presented to this Town Council.  The statement illustrates the bargaining posture that resulted in the State Labor Relations Board’s issuance of multiple Unfair Labor Practice complaints against the Town, which have been found to be properly investigated and asserted by Judge Stern in his most recent ruling.  We are confident that if necessary the Supreme Court will reach the same conclusions and rule in our favor as well.” ~ Raymond Furtado, President NKFFA Local 1651

Supreme Court appeal probable – length of stay unknown

The Town also indicated that a Supreme Court appeal will likely come soon, with stays of both the Unring the Bell and SLRB decisions remaining in place.

“The Superior Court decision invites an appeal to the Supreme Court,” said Kinder. “The Town Council will consider filing an appeal soon.”

The Town and Union are currently in CBA negotiations. According to Furtado, the Town has twice rejected Union offers at considerable savings to the Town.

“We are currently engaged in contract negotiations with the Town, hopeful of resolving this dispute once and for all.  Our latest offer is an update of the tentative agreement that the Town’s negotiating team agreed to one year ago, with additional settlement terms that would eliminate nearly $2 million in liability that has accrued due to the Council’s unlawful actions,” said Furtado. “The resolution would also bring all legal proceedings to closure, the taxpayer cost of which currently totals in excess of $500,000.  We are hopeful that our Council will appreciate the genuine nature of this offer and work with us in good faith to come to an agreement.  The time to bring this dangerous experiment to an end is long overdue.”

 

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