At Urging of Attorney Leah Barrault, Arbitrator Enforces Minimum Staffing Clause For New Bedford Fire Fighters

January 15, 2019

A neutral arbitrator agreed with Attorney Leah Barrault that a collective bargaining agreement's effective ban on two-person crews was enforceable against the City of New Bedford. The New Bedford Firefighters, Local 841IAFF negotiated language in their contract that requires, per national standards, apparatus to be staffed by four-person crews and, under very limited circumstances, three-person crews. As such, two person crews were not allowed.

Staffing of fire apparatus is such a critical safety measure for firefighters that the Commonwealth Employment Relations Board agrees that fire chiefs must bargain about the issue when the union requests to do so during contract talks.

The City and Union abided by this language for years. When staffing on an apparatus was reduced to two firefighters, the Arbitrator found that the consistent past practice had been to remove the apparatus from service. Therefore, the Chief's new memo allowing two-person crews violated the contract. He wrote, "The binding past practice is that an apparatus with only two firefighters is to return to its stationhouse until additional firefighters arrive. Any change in this procedure must be negotiated."

The Arbitrator ordered the City to rescind the Chief's Memorandum and restore the past practice.