Judges agree with Sandulli Grace, PC and BPPA, that state agency may order hours of work requested by public safety unions

In a decision released October 6, 2006 in the case of Local 2071, International Association of Firefighters v. Town of Bellingham, No. 05-P-516, the Appeals Court rejected a public employer’s challenge to an arbitration award that ordered to provide firefighters with 24-hour shifts. This case involved an award by the Joint Labor Management Committee, a state agency that provides for binding arbitration of public safety collective bargaining after talks reach an impasse. The local sought 24-hour shifts, which is the customary schedule in the firefighting industry, much as “4 & 2” (four days on-duty followed by two days off-duty) is the customary schedule in the municipal police industry.

The Town opposed the schedule, claiming without support that the schedule infringed on its managerial prerogative and will lead to diminished quality of fire protective services. Despite the Town’s objections, the arbitration panel awarded the 24-hour shifts to the union, noting the prevalence of such schedules across the country and the lack of any credible proof that they lead to fatigue.

The Town appealed all the way, so far, to the Appeals Court. The Court found that hours of work are a mandatory subject of bargaining, that hours of work are not excluded from the subjects of the JLMC’s binding arbitration, and that the Town failed to show that the 24-hour shifts in any way impinged upon public safety priorities. When a public employer claims that an otherwise mandatory subject of bargaining, such as hours or wages, infringes on its policymaking functions, it must provide persuasive proof that its ability to render public safety services is imperiled. In other words, the Court affirmed that an employer seeking to escape its bargaining obligations must do more than simply wave around the phrases “managerial rights” or “public policy” as if they were a magic wand.

The Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the matter. The brief was authored by its labor/employment firm, Sandulli Grace, PC.