Agency Rules That Chelsea Manager Violated State Law By Failing To Take Appropriate Measures to Fund Firefighter Contract

November 06, 2013

State law requires the executive of a City or Town to request funding for a negotiated contract or an arbitrator's award. The executive must ask for sufficient funds and "fully and unconditionally" support the request in the face of any criticism. Attorneys Alfred Gordon O'Connell and Jillian Ryan persuaded a Department of Labor Relations Hearing Officer that the Chelsea Mayor's silence in the face of extensive criticism by city councillors was unlawful. This victory will be of great benefit to public safety locals dealing with contract awards, especially ones that upset the employer.

The case started when an arbitrator mutually selected by the City and the Chelsea Fire Fighters, Local 937, IAFF issued an award on wages and other benefits. This award was necessitated by the parties being unable to reach agreement on a new contract. The award's economic items could not take effect until the City Council appropriated the necessary funding.

The Chelsea City Manager, who seemed displeased by the terms of the award, made a perfunctory request that City Council fund the Award. He falsely claimed that City Council could approve the request, deny it, or ask for additional changes. In fact, City Council has no authority to ask for changes.

At a City Council meeting attended by the City Manager, several Councillors criticized the award and sought to have the award renegotiated. A formal resolution was put forward on that idea. The Manager said and did nothing in response. He did not even inform the City Councillors that their option was limited to approving or rejecting the funding request. His silence, the Hearing Officer correctly reasoned, implied that the City Manager did not, in fact, support the request for funding. This inaction violated the law.

The purpose behind requiring an executive to fully and unconditionally support funding is to ensure that parties act in good faith throughout the bargaining process. If an executive were not required to take all necessary steps to ensure funding, then it could scupper contracts by signaling to legislators that the deal should not be funded. Such chicanery would mean that the City Manager's promises could not be trusted. The requirement of "full and unconditional" support for funding is intended to prevent sabotage of bargaining through collateral means. This requirement is equally important for contracts decided by an arbitrator. If the parties could attack an award - that was necessitated by impasse in negotiations - at the funding stage, then they were not actually participating in good faith in the arbitration process.

The law imposes the same burden on executives as it does on union negotiators. Union negotiators have a legal obligation to support ratification of a deal they negotiate. It would be bad faith if negotiators could shake hands on a deal and then ask the members to vote it down.

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