State Labor Board Upholds Right Of Melrose Fire Fighters Union To Block Mid-Term Bargaining Over Changes to Promotional Practices
On June 10, 2019, the Commonwealth Employee Relations Board (CERB) upheld the dismissal of charges filed by the City of Melrose against IAFF, Local 1617 alleging that the Fire Union had violated the state Collective Bargaining Law by refusing to bargain over mid-term changes to promotional criteria. Pyle Rome attorney Al Gordon O'Connell represented the Union at the investigation and in the appeal.
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 those negotiations. After an Investigator from the Department of Labor Relations dismissed the charges, the City appealed to the CERB, which upheld the dismissal order. In a case of first impression, the CERB found that the Union acted well within its rights by pulling out of negotiations based on the zipper clause. According to the CERB decision, a properly worded zipper clause can block changes that a public employer seeks to make during the term of a collective bargaining agreement. The case is of particularly importance for public safety unions who can force binding interest arbitration over contract negotiations but cannot arbitrate over mid-term bargaining issues.