State Agency Tosses Frivolous Complaint Against Andover Fire, Thanks to Atty Leah Barrault

January 26, 2017

Massachusetts public employers having been trying a new tactic when public safety unions are unwilling to accept take-it-or-leave-it contract proposals: suing when unions ask for a mediator. Thankfully, Attorney Leah Barrault, has defeated two of these charges. Last December, the Department of Labor Relations dismissed a charge against Seekonk Fire Fighters based on the Union's request for Joint Labor Management Committee mediation of the bargaining dispute. Now, Attorney Barrault persuaded the Department to dismiss a charge by the Town of Andover against Andover Fire Fighters Union, Local 1658 IAFF.

Local 1658 met with the Town of Andover eight times in one year to settle a new contract. But they were unable to reach agreement, particularly on the Town's insistence that the Union exclude a Deputy Chief from the bargaining unit. The Union then filed a petition with the Joint Labor Management Committee, an agency established by the State Legislature to help employers and public safety unions to settle contracts.

Instead of cooperating fully with the JLMC to settle the contract, the Town's private attorneys responded by filing a charge against the Union, alleging bad faith. The Department dismissed the charge in full.

The Investigator wrote, "[T]he facts before me show that during the parties' eight negotiation eight sessions that spanned the course of approximately one year, the Union made proposals and counterproposals. Also, the Union tentatively agreed to the Town's proposals concerning terminal leave and health insurance as part of its April 14, 2016 counteroffer. The CERB previously has found a willingness to listen to the other party's arguments and to at least consider compromise to be an indicia of good faith bargaining. Section 6 of the Law does not compel either party to agree to a proposal or to make a concession but only to bargain in good faith and the Union did so here."

Hopefully these two decisions within six weeks will discourage public employers from frivolous efforts to stymie contract settlements.

Related Attorney: 
Leah M. Barrault