Atty Leah Barrault Persuades Agency To Dismiss Frivolous Charges Against Seekonk Fire Local 1931

December 12, 2016

After contract negotiations with the Town of Seekonk were headed nowhere, Seekonk Fire Local 1931, IAFF asked the Joint Labor Management Commitment (JLMC) for help. The legislature established the JLMC to help public safety unions and employers resolve contract bargaining disputes.

The Town retaliated by alleging that the Union's mere request to the JLMC constituted an unfair labor practice. The Town filed several charges againt Local 1931 at the Department of Labor Relations (DLR). The ULP charges, in addition to being frivolous, could have derailed the JLMC process to resolve the contract. Thankfully, a DLR Investigator dismissed these charges in full, in the attached decision. This decision will serve as an important guide to future bargaining disputes, and should deter employers from retaliating against public safety unions that seek JLMC assistance.

1. The DLR Investigator agreed that it was not bad faith or surface bargaining when Attorney Leah Barrault said that there was no condition on the planet that Local 1931 would agree to a 56-hour work week. State law entitles a party to maintain a position during bargaining without compromise.

2. The DLR Investigator agreed that Local 1931's filing of a JLMC petition was not unlawful, where state law allows parties to file petitions, the parties can continue to bargain through the JLMC, and the JLMC accepted the petition.

3. The DLR Investigator agreed that Local 1931 did not act in bad faith or contrary to ground rules when it declined to schedule future bargaining sessions immediately. The Local 1931 expressly asked the Town to make contact about scheduling after the Town spoke with the Board of Selectmen.

4. Finally, the DLR Investigator rejected the Town's "Hail Mary" charge that the "totality of the conduct" showed Local 1931 failed to bargain in good faith. However, after hearing several hours of evidence that she detailed in a 15-page memo, the Investigator determined that Local 1931 acted consistent with the law: it made proposals, offered counterproposals, and agreed with certain proposals of the employer.

In sum, a public safety union is free to file a JLMC petition in good faith without fear that the employer will establish the request is an unfair labor practice.

Related Attorney: 
Leah M. Barrault