Atty Barrault Persuades Arbitrator That City of Worcester Underpaid Firefighters

January 27, 2020

A neutral arbitrator agreed with Attorney Leah Barrault that the City of Worcester violated its collective bargaining agreement with Worcester Firefighters, Local 1009, IAFF by cutting compensation to temporarily promoted firefighters. Fire Departments frequently experience temporary vacancies in officer ranks. A temporary vacancy is different from when an officer leaves employment (whether retirement or termination) and occurs when an officer is temporarily or indefinitely on a type of leave (such as medical leave, military leave, etc). Chapter 31 under Massachusetts General Laws requires that vacancies in Civil Service positions of more than 30 days must be filled by a Temporary Civil Service promotion.

In this case, the City of Worcester Fire Department promoted certain firefighters to fill temporary vacancies and then compensated them at their new temporary rank when they worked in that capacity. So far, so good. However, the City cut their pay when the temporarily promoted officers used paid leave (e.g., vacation or sick), and refused to let them fill vacancies of their new rank. That is bad, and contrary to the whole point of a temporary promotion. Local 1009 leaders grieved this action.

After a full hearing involving evidence and argument, the Arbitrator upheld the grievance. She rejected the out-of-grade provision in the collective bargaining agreement relied upon by the City. That provision does not apply when employees actually have received a Civil Service promotion, even if it is temporary. She ruled, "A fire fighter selected on a shift by shift basis to fill in for a lieutenant, remains a fire fighter and is compensated for working above their grade pursuant to Article 22. If that same fire fighter is then selected from a Civil Service list and temporarily promoted to fill a longer vacancy in a lieutenant position, they are no longer acting or working above their grade because they have been appointed to a lieutenant position."

The Arbitrator ordered the City to make firefighters whole for violating the collective bargaining agreement. She agreed with Attorney Barrault's request that she hold onto the case for 60 days in case the City and Local 1009 could not agree upon the appropriate remedy.