State Labor Board Investigator Rules that Melrose Fire Union Had The Right To Block Bargaining Over Promotion Changes

April 22, 2019

On April 22, 2019, an investigator from the Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations dismissed charges that the City of Melrose had filed against the Melrose Fire Fighters, Local 1617 alleging that the Union engaged in bad faith bargaining over changes to promotional criteria. Attorney Al Gordon O'Connell represented the Union at the investigation.

The case stemmed from the attempts of the new Melrose Fire Chief to change criteria for promotions to internal officer positions. The Union came to the table to talk about the Chief's proposal but was concerned that the proposed changes would add too much subjectivity to the promotional process. After exchanging a number of ideas across the table, the Union ultimately decided to pull out of bargaining based on a "zipper" clause in the parties contract. The zipper clause states that both the City and the Union waive the right to bargain during the life of the contract over any subject that is included or could have been included in the agreement.

The City filed two separate charges against the Union based on the course of conduct in negotiations and on the Union pulling out of negotiations. After an exhaustive investigation that reviewed dozens of exhibits, the DLR investigator issued a 17-page decision dismissing the charges against the Union. The investigator first found that the Union did not engage in bad faith bargaining during the time it was at the table because its conduct showed a willingness to meet and negotiate in good faith. But more importantly, in a case of first impression, the investigator found that the Union acted well within its rights by pulling out of negotiations based on the zipper clause.

The DLR has thus ended the proceedings against the Union. However, the matter of the zipper clause will be further litigated in a full hearing at the DLR later this year over charges the Union filed relating to unilateral changes the Chief made to the promotional process while negotiations were pending.

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