SJC Hands Rare Victory to Unions: Public Employers Do Not Have Managerial Right to Set Most Hours Of Work; Sandulli Grace Filed Arguments In Support of Winning Union
In a brief opinion, the Supreme Judicial Court upheld the right of the joint labor management committee (JLMC), the state agency that resolves bargaining disputes involving police or fire unions, to issue an award including a type of shift, such as 24-hour shifts for firefighters. This decision in Local 2071, Int’l Assn of Firefighters v. Town of Bellingham (Dec. 7, 2007) affirms the well-established notion that public safety employers generally do not have a managerial right to change shifts. Sandulli Grace, PC filed friend-of-the-court arguments on behalf of Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, Inc. and the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, AFL-CIO in support of the firefighter local.
In this case, an arbitration panel convened by the JLMC awarded 24-hour shifts as the firefighters’ local requested. This award did not change the number of hours worked by firefighters or the number of firefighters per shift. Nonetheless, the Town appealed, claiming that the award infringed upon its inherent managerial rights. After losing at Superior Court, the Town again appealed. The Town did the same after the Appeals Court eventually agreed with the Union.
Although the case dealt exclusively with firefighter shifts, the stakes were significant. If the SJC upheld the Town’s basis for appeal, then Fire and Police Chiefs could change standard hours of work, including the “4&2,” whenever the Chief saw fit and without having to negotiate changes with the Union.