The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board has issued its final ruling in the unfair labor practice case between Chambersburg Borough and IAFF Local 1813. The case arose back in 2011 when the Borough threatened to lay off career firefighters (IAFF 1813 members) and replace them with volunteers from one of the several volunteer fire companies in the Borough.
In response, Union President Patrick Martin sent a letter to IAFF firefighters who volunteered for those volunteer fire departments in the Borough explaining the situation, and reminding them about IAFF bylaws that prohibit volunteering where it “adversely impacts the interest of any affiliate or the IAFF.”
Upon finding out about the letter, the Borough disciplined President Martin by suspending him for 240 hours. The Local and the Borough filed unfair labor practice complaints with the PLRB, with the local claiming the punishment interfered with the locals right to engage in concerted activities and the Borough claiming the union sought to encourage a secondary boycott.
A hearing officer ruled last January that the Borough committed an unfair labor practice by disciplining Martin and that there was no secondary boycott. The Borough appealed to the full PLRB, which issued its ruling last week concurring with the hearing officer on both counts.
Here are the highlights:
- [Quoting from a prior case] It cannot be disputed that a union may require its members to cooperate in the achievement of its legitimate objectives. The success of any organization is dependent upon the cohesiveness of efforts of those who compose it…. A union must have authority to discipline its members, otherwise it will have no power to bargain effectively.
- [A] union's notice of, or imposition of disciplinary sanctions on, recalcitrant members would not be a secondary boycott.
- [A] secondary boycott cannot be found where the third-party is not independent or unconnected with the labor dispute at issue.
- There is substantial evidence of record to support a finding that the IAFF members of the Franklin Fire Company would have provided volunteer firefighting services because of a lay off at the Borough Fire Department. Indeed, the Borough expressly advised Local 1813 of its intent to lay off some of its paid firefighters and have those services performed by volunteer firefighters.
- President Martin's letter of October 26, 2011, requesting that IAFF members of the Franklin Fire Company withhold volunteer services as replacement for laid off Borough fire fighters, in accordance with the IAFF constitution and bylaws, is not a secondary boycott under Section 6(2) (d) of the PLRA.
- The October 26, 2011 letter involved internal union matters discussing IAFF members' rights and obligations under the IAFF constitution and bylaws. Thus, Martin's October 26, 2011 letter was protected activity under the PLRA.
- [T]he Borough’s discipline of Martin for engaging in that protected conduct amounts to interference and discrimination under Section 6(1) (a) or (c) of the PLRA.
As we have seen in the North Kingstown, Rhode Island case, there are a group of elected officials out there who believe that their political ideology (anti-union anti-public employee) puts them above the law. The law is just an inconvenience to these folks and in their minds – they are on a mission that justifies their conduct. Of course they are playing with other people’s money when they embark on these adventures… but… their reputations are at stake as well. So in that vein – take a look at this response by Chambersburg Borough Council President William F. McLaughlin, complaining about biased reporting in the newspaper.
The problem cannot possibly be that the Borough lost a case it should have lost… a clear cut case in which the Borough went against settled precident… a case that really should never have been brought in the first place (ditto for the North Kingstown case)… oh no… let’s not talk about that… the real problem is biased reporting.
Perhaps the taxpayers of Chambersburg should be content that their ideological anti-labor elected officials did not create the $2.5 million hole that the folks in North Kingstown have created.
IAFF Local 1813 President Pat Martin… I need to introduce you to IAFF Local 1651 President Ray Furtado. You two have a lot to talk about!
Here is a copy of the PLRB ruling. PLRB-Chambersburg-Borough-vs-International-Association-of-Firefighters