Update: The General Assembly pulled companion firefighters overtime bills from consideration by House and Senate committees on Thursday afternoon.
PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island firefighters headed back to the State House today were turned around as Senate and House companion bills protecting the state’s fire services personnel, police and emergency services personnel from forced shift structures exceeding 42 hours, without due compensation were pulled.
House Bill 6278 and Senate Bill 0961 Sub A, were introduced following January’s Rhode Island Supreme Court decision in the years’ long discord between the North Kingstown Firefighters IAFF NKFFA Local 1651 and the Town of North Kingstown.
The collective bargaining rights ensuring union and member voice in platoon, wage and hourly structure have been in place for more than 60 years.
Stemming from the town’s unilateral implementation of changes to platoon, wage and hourly structure in March 2012, the court and administrative battle between the firefighters and their employer saw multiple Superior Court and Rhode Island State Labor Relations Board decisions favorable to the fire service.
Superior Court Judge Brian P. Stern in December 2012 ordered the town to “unring the bell” on the implementation.
“The Town now will be required to ―unring the bell and—as to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment—go back to the state that existed pre-unilateral implementation,” wrote Stern in his decision.
Under the decision, the Town was also required to compensate employees for wages lost during the time period extending from March through the return to their original schedule.
The price tag to the town for that return was estimated in 2012 to be in excess of $1.3 million.
In February 2013, the union and town met in prolonged arbitration hearings, coming to agreement that saw the firefighters ratifying a temporary contract in a good faith effort to end the years’-long battle between the two. The Town Council reneged on the agreement and the Council in a 5-0 vote struck down the agreement, already signed by the Town Manager.
“We came to the bargaining table in good faith,” Raymond Furtado, President of the NKFFA said after the council action. “We expected the Town was doing the same.”
In September 2013 the SLRB ordered the town to “immediately restore the firefighter’s schedule, hours of work and hourly rate of pay to that which existed upon the expiration of the 2010-2011 contract year.” The labor board found that the town had not only not acted in good faith, but had in fact employed bad faith bargaining.
By 2014 the bill born on the backs of fire service personnel had quadrupled, with a bottom line in excess of $4 million. The firefighters’ damages for total payroll estimated at $3,990, 596. Longevity owed was $65,671.
Throughout the legal melee, the town through its attorney Daniel Kinder maintained that the implementation was a management right exacted to save costs for the town. Kinder as of October 2014 was compensated by the town in excess of $872,000. Kinder and his law firm represent multiple cities and towns across the state. The firm also produces s a monthly informational publication, The Municipal Employer. Kinder lists himself as the editor of the publication.
Volume 22, No. 3 bulleted out the firm’s position on current legislation affecting municipalities, including the NKFFA decision, the Coventry Fire Department Bankruptcy, Newport Fire Department’s latest contract negotiations and current Massachusetts decisions. The document also touches upon affirmative action and discrimination suits. The document states that it is an informational services and is not legal advice.
The town secured a stay of execution on the return of its fire department to the structure held prior to March 2012. The following up and down battle between courts and labor administrative hearings upheld the firefighters’ rights to collective bargaining.
The legislation being considered protects the collective bargaining rights and ensures that firefighters, police and emergency personnel protected under CBA receive compensation for overtime hours worked.
Under the legislation, firefighters would be paid overtime for hours worked beyond a 42 hour work week. Police unions whose collective bargaining protection mirrors the firefighters would receive overtime for hours worked over 40 hours.
Municipalities are examining the platoon structure changes and minimum manning requirements hoping to save money on the backs of the fire and police departments. On Tuesday, Lt. Governor Daniel McKee joined Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza and others in a press conference standing in opposition to overtime legislation.
See related coverage at Special Reports NKFFA