A look into the real-time efforts of organized union-busting
NORTH KINGSTOWN – While firefighters across the state are defending their right to good faith bargaining with regard to platoon, shift and wage structures, a local attorney and his firm are providing municipalities with a veritable road map to erasing collective bargaining and workers’ protections in labor relations.
According to his professional biography Attorney Daniel Kinder, of the firm Whelan, Kinder, Corrente and Siket, LLP is the Lead Editor of the Municipal Employer, a publication aimed at providing “informational services to its clients”, although it states that it is not legal advice. The firm, located in Providence, Rhode Island holds itself out as specializing in employer-side labor law.
“The Supreme Court of Rhode Island’s landmark decision in Town of North Kingstown v. IAFF, Local 1651 has changed the collective bargaining landscape for all Rhode Island municipalities.” – The Municipal Employer, Volume 22 No. 3, page N-2
Attorney Kinder and his firm represent several municipalities across the State of Rhode Island. As stated on the Kinder firm website,
“We regularly represent employers in collective bargaining negotiations with all major trade unions and in labor arbitrations. We routinely appear before the NLRB and the State Labor Boards. We frequently counsel clients concerning the implementation and administration of labor-related policies and practices.”
The crux of the Municipal Employer document – a breakdown of current labor litigation and court decisions affecting collective bargaining as it pertains to municipalities.
Volume 22 No. 3., provides much insight into the trend of policies contradictory to any form of organized labor. Its chosen vitriol, the watering down of historic collective bargaining protocols and the continued trend of right-side politics in labor relations.
Highlights of the Collective Bargaining – Analysis, How the North Kingstown firefighters’ decision affects you, section include how,
- Bargaining with the International Association of Firefighters will change; and
- Police bargaining will change.
The document goes on to describe the increased powers of municipalities, lessened bargaining powers of the unions and weakened rights of its public safety personnel.
A direct assault was aimed at the Rhode Island State Labor Relations Board.
“The Rhode Island State Labor Relations Board has returned to the “bad old days,” reads the document. “Dominated by union zealots, no public employer is likely to get a fair hearing before this labor board. That is a fact of life for every Rhode Island city and town.”
Noted is the fact that Elizabeth Dolan, former Town Council President for the Town of North Kingstown, was a sitting member of the RISLRB and as president and party to the lawsuits, a client of Attorney Kinder.
Kinder, represented the Town of North Kingstown in a years’ long labor and contract dispute born from the municipality implementing unilateral changes to departmental platoon, shift and wage structures.
The Town of North Kingstown under a Freedom of Information Act request in October 2014, revealed that Kinder had been paid $872,000 in legal fees as of that time for his representation in the dispute with the firefighters union. In addition, arbitrators, overseeing multiple years’ contract negotiations had been paid more than $65,000.
Multiple Superior Court and Rhode Island State Labor Relations board decisions found in favor of the towns firefighters, International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) NKFFA Local 1651. The trial court, under Judge Brian P. Stern and RISLRB found that the town had acted outside of collective bargaining in implementing a change from a 4-platoon to a 3-platoon system, increasing required work schedules and unilaterally affecting hours and wages paid. The bottom line resulted in significantly increased hours, and less pay.
The town averred that the structure change was a management right. The firefighters argued that departmental structure, directly affecting shifts and wages was a foundational element of not only the collective bargaining practices of the department, guaranteed under statutory mandates and the Firefighters Arbitration Act, but a tried and true collective bargaining policy, historically sewn into the fiber of labor relations and workers’ rights.
The court agreed. The Superior Court and labor board held that the town had not exercised good faith bargaining and had bargained in bad faith to the detriment of the firefighters.
The Rhode Island Supreme Court traveling along the hinterlands, ruled that the town could exercise the unilateral implementation as to platoon structure, arbitrarily increasing requisite weekly work schedules by double digits, while still required to bargain hours and wages.
The firefighters maintained that the structuring (manning) intricately entwined with hours and wages was detrimental not only to the safety of the members, but to the public safety at large.
The Court’s decision placed firefighters, police and public safety personnel at risk by requiring firefighters to work 56-hour work weeks. According to the Municipal Employer, the implication was that an employer’s change to a 56-hour week “was a management right, strongly appears to be the implication of its decision.”
“So, every municipality in the state now can turn to its firefighters union and say, “We’re going to a three-platoon system.” – Volume 22 No.3, The Municipal Employer
The document through its authors, the law firm of Whelan, Kinder and Siket LLP in an outright political banter, calls upon the League of Cities and Towns and its lobbyists to form a unified effort to defend the newly created loophole.
Further assault is made upon the legislature, who has in the mind of the author succumbed to the whims of errant radicalized unions. In its closing rant, the North Kingstown-based article cautions Rhode Island’s elected officials, not its municipal clients of “standing out as America’s most union-dominated state government.”
Several Rhode Island municipal leaders have signed on to considering support for unilateral changes, without first vetting any adverse effects or solid cost savings to their citizenry. The latest proponent, the City of Providence is now in embattled negotiations with its fire districts.
The legislature is set to meet on Tuesday afternoon to consider legislation protective of historical collective bargaining practices, its firefighters, police, and public service employees. There is also a bill dubbed “compromise” legislation ensuring overtime pay for public sector employees under consideration.