“We are on the right side of the issue morally and ethically, and although the Town reversed its commitment to waive the timelines that led to today’s decision in their favor, we remain undeterred in our commitment to ensuring our safety, and in turn, the safety of our residents. This dangerous experiment needs to end once and for all.” ~ Raymond Furtado
North Kingstown – The North Kingstown Firefighters (NKFFA) International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Local 1651 responded on Friday evening to the decision of the state’s highest court rendered on consolidated appeals before them in the acrimonious and divisive discord between the Town of North Kingstown and its firefighters.
In press release, the union addressed the court ruling as to the town’s unilateral implementation of a change in platoon structure from the 4-platoon structure maintained prior to March 2012 to a 3-platoon structure, while unilaterally changing “the terms and conditions of employment, including hours and wages, without bargaining to impasse and without exhausting all statutory dispute resolution mechanisms under the Fire Fighter’s Arbiration Act (FFAA).”
The press release reads in part as follows:
The North Kingstown Fire Fighters, IAFF Local 1651 (NKFFA) received a Supreme Court ruling today regarding the platoon structure of the North Kingstown Fire Department. The decision states that while the Town possesses the management right to determine the department’s organizational structure, it does not have the right to change firefighters’ work hours and wages. Hours and wages, like other working conditions, are subject to negotiation and arbitration under the Fire Fighters’ Arbitration Act. It is the hours and working conditions that firefighters are most concerned about.
“Today’s ruling from the Supreme Court was not entirely unexpected, as it only involves the platoon structure, which has never been our concern” stated Raymond Furtado, President of the NKFFA. “Our position has always centered on our hours of work, coupled with the lack of appropriate personnel to perform our commitment to the residents safely. Further, the decision does not address the employment of bad-faith bargaining by the previous Town Council, as was clearly established through two decisions of the RI State Labor Relations Board after a year of extensive hearings, evidence, and testimony.”
“While we have yet to review the decision with our attorneys in detail, I am very encouraged by the Court’s finding that the Town must comply with the bargaining requirements of the FFAA regarding wages, hours and working conditions. We currently have three contracts pending in interest arbitration, and it is now apparent those hearings will determine our wages, hours, and working conditions for the years in question. It is there that we will make our case for safer working conditions,” said Furtado.
Out of Time Ruling Proved Fatal
In addressing the Court’s ruling that the Union’s failure to comply with a statutory timeline requirement was fatal to its case, even though the Town and Union had acknowledged the untimeliness and the parties had proceeded forward, Furtado said,
“We are on the right side of the issue morally and ethically, and although the Town reversed its commitment to waive the timelines that led to today’s decision in their favor, we remain undeterred in our commitment to ensuring our safety, and in turn, the safety of our residents. This dangerous experiment needs to end once and for all.”
The press release also addressed multiple outstanding and unresolved contract arbitrations underway between the parties.
Although the Court held today that the 2011-2012 contract year is not subject to arbitration, the parties are currently engaged in contract arbitrations for years 2012-13, 2013-14, 2014-15, and are in negotiations for 2015-16. Today’s decision impacts the terms and conditions of employment for the period March 11, 2012 through June 30, 2012.
According to the Union, there has been no timetable established for the remaining Supreme Court appeals, including the State Labor Board’s decision finding that the Town acted in bad faith in its dealings with the firefighters since the fall of 2012.