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Everett

Fire union locked in contract battle

Everett and its firefighters union remain locked in a contentious contract dispute more than a month after the city admitted it violated state labor laws in the negotiation process.

The state Department of Labor Relations is reviewing a new allegation by the union that the city violated the law when it unilaterally increased union members’ pay by 1.5 percent on Dec. 6. A division investigator has scheduled a Feb. 13 hearing , ­according to Craig Hardy, president of Local 143 of the International Association of Fire Fighters.  

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In a Dec. 12 ruling, a Labor Relations hearing officer said the city had admitted to all factual and legal allegations by the union contained in two previous complaints issued by agency investigators, on Oct. 22 and Nov. 27. The investigators had found probable cause the city had committed a combined seven violations of the law.

Since June, the city and the 94-member union have been negotiating a contract to succeed the one that expired at the end of that month.

“During the negotiation period, my administration has been working diligently and in good faith with representatives of Firefighters Local 143 in the effort to modernize the current firefighter contract,” Mayor Carlo DeMaria Jr. said. “It is my goal to find an equitable and balanced solution to our shared challenges while maintaining the highest level of public safety services to the residents of the city of Everett.

“I am confident that when we return to the negotiating table, both sides will be able to achieve their respective goals. I have great respect for the Everett firefighters and look forward to continuing our conversations,” DeMaria added.

Hardy said the ruling last month “just shows the city’s blatant disregard for the law and the process we have in hand, collective bargaining. . . . I wouldn’t say we were pleased, but it showed that we were telling the truth, that we weren’t making things up.”

He said that at about the time it was admitting to the charges, the city took another action the union claims was a violation of labor law: unilaterally giving a 1.5 percent raise to union members for fiscal 2013.

“We are not against them increasing our pay, but we have a process in place,” Hardy said. “Let’s do it right and let my members ratify it.”

In August, the union filed for arbitration before the state’s Joint Labor Management Committee. Hardy said the union is “anxiously awaiting” the start of that process, speculating that the state board has not wanted to initiate arbitration while union charges against the city were pending.

Yashira Pepin, a spokeswoman for the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, said that on Oct. 12, the Joint Labor Management Committee “voted to take jurisdiction over the case.”

Typically, when the committee takes jurisdiction, it attempts to mediate the dispute. If the mediation is not successful, the committee can send the case to an arbitrator.

One of the charges in the Oct. 12 complaint concerned a comment that Albert ­Mason, the city’s counsel, allegedly made at an Aug. 1 bargaining session.

The union said Hardy advised Mason of a meeting he had attended with the mayor and his chief of staff in which they discussed contract talks. The union said Mason “advised Hardy that if Hardy had spoken to the mayor or spoke to the mayor in the future, he would file an unfair labor practice charge against the union.”

The union also alleged that around July 11 and July 17, the city advised the union that if it filed for arbitration with the Joint Labor Management Committee, “The union would be going to the JLMC without a contract, or words to that ­effect.”

The union also asserted that at an Aug. 21 bargaining session the city said if the union filed with the Joint Labor Management Committee, “The city’s funding authority would not fund, and the mayor would not support, a JLMC award that differed from the city’s current proposal.”

The union said that in all those cases, the city “interfered with, restrained, and coerced employees in the free exercise of their rights,” and that in its July 11 and July 17 comments, the city “has failed to bargain in good faith with the union by threatening to terminate [the contract] if the union filed a petition with the JLMC.”

One of the charges in the Nov. 27 complaint concerned a discussion the union claimed DeMaria had at the Ferry Street Fire Station  with six union members who are not on the bargaining committee.

The union said that through statements the mayor made there, the city had “interfered with, restrained, and coerced employees in the free exercise of their rights” and “bypassed the union by dealing directly with unit members over wages,” in violation of the law.

The hearing officer for the Department of Labor Relations, Kathleen Goodberlet, ordered the city to cease and desist from violations of the law; to bargain in good faith; and to post notices advising union members of its intention to adhere to those requirements.

John Laidler can be reached at laidler@globe.com.
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