Attorney Bryant Wins Restoration of Position to Steelworkers Bargaining Unit in City of Chelsea

June 01, 2023

Some employers apparently think they can dilute the strength of a bargaining unit, and avoid their legal obligations to a union, simply by creating a new title to perform duties or functions long performed by a bargaining unit position. The attached arbitration Award involving the United Steelworkers Local 9427 affirms that regardless of how you name a new position, if it walks like a bargaining unit position and talks like a bargaining unit position, it's a bargaining unit position.

Ever since the supervisory and administrative employees of the City of Chelsea joined the Steelworkers in 1996, the bargaining unit has included the Assistant Department of Public Works (DPW) Director, which was originally called City Engineer/Assistant DPW Director. This position reported to the DPW Director, who was not in the bargaining unit. Over time, the parties added a second Assistant DPW Director position to the bargaining unit.

Sometime in 2019, the City renamed the DPW Director position as DPW Commissioner, and the Assistant DPW Director positions were consolidated into a single Deputy Deputy DPW Commissioner position. However, the City also removed this position from the bargaining unit, and never told the Union.

The neutral arbitrator ruled that the new title was not a justification to reduce the bargaining unit. "Since the position of Deputy DPW
Commissioner does not materially differ from the former position of Assistant DPW Director, it is hard to see any justification for removing it now." He rejected the City's contention that the new position is managerial, finding that there was little evidence the Deputy DPW Commissioner met the standard of independently implementing critical policy decisions.

He ordered the position to be placed in the bargaining unit and directed the City to meet with the Union "to negotiate
the classification of the position, except that in no event shall the then occupant of the position suffer any loss in pay."