Arbitration Panel, at Urging of Atty Leah Barrault, Awards 24-hour shift to Seekonk Fire and Rejects 56-Hour Work Week as Baseless.

May 13, 2018

The 24-Hour Shift/42-hour work week is the norm for fire departments in Massachusetts, much as the 4&2/37.5-hour work week is for police departments. But for years, the Town of Seekonk refused to even consider the schedule worked by fire crews all across the Commonwealth. That all changed when Attorney Leah Barrault, assisted by Attorney Mark Macchi, persuaded an arbitration panel including PFFM District Vice President Matt Reddy, that a 24-hour shift is merited, can boost morale, safety and fatigue recovery. All these benefits can be achieved without additional cost to the Town. In fact, Barrault, Macchi and Seekonk Firefireghters Local 1931, IAFF showed that 24-hour shifts can save money, by reducing use of sick leave.

The Town of Seekonk was only willing to consider this schedule if the Local 1931 agreed to increase firefighter hours by 33.3%. The Town proposed a 56-hour work week schedule that is effectively nonexistent and unproven in Massachusetts. The Town’s proposal was based entirely upon a brief conversation with one Rhode Island department that negotiated this schedule with its fire local. The Town ignored the contentious and expensive example of Providence Fire, where the IAFF local successfully sued the City of Providence’s unilateral implementation of a 56-hour work week. Providence ultimately dropped that schedule.

The Town’s poorly-researched and untested proposal for a 56-hour work week seemed to be actually based in a desire to antagonize the Local and extend costly litigation. The Panel described the Town’s proposal as “hurriedly devised,” “apparently failed to consider the effect of its proposal on areas such as firefighter safety or pensions,” and based on a “dearth of experience.” The Panel was deeply concerned that the Town never solicited the Chief’s opinion on a 56-hour work week (he opposed it).

The arbitration panel in addition to PFFM DVP Reddy and a neutral arbitrator, also included a representative of management. The panel unanimously awarded a 24-hour shift and unanimously rejected the Town’s 56-hour work week proposal.

On Monday, Town Meeting unanimously funded the award.