Detroit Not Allowed To Lay Off Firefighters

The Detroit Fire Fighters Association and the City of Detroit are parties to a collective bargaining agreement that expired on June 30, 2001. The City and the Association are currently in the interest arbitration process to determine the terms of the successor agreement.

Responding to one of a series of budget crises, on July 1, 2004, the City compelled layoffs of some firefighters and announced restructuring of the Fire Department. In September 2005, the City announced a proposal for additional layoffs and restructuring to address budget concerns.

The Association then sued, requesting an injunction requiring the City to await the outcome of the ongoing arbitration proceedings before implementing its restructuring program. The Michigan Court of Appeals recently upheld the Association’s request for an injunction.

In the Court’s view, while the decision to lay off employees is not a mandatory subject of collective bargaining, the impact of a layoff decision may well be negotiable. As the Court described it, “the trial court took testimony on how response time to fires would be affected, safety concerns pertaining to firefighters having to travel greater distances to fire scenes, the potential for increased risk where these delays exacerbated the fires, the impact on availability of personnel to meet the four-person-per-rig mandate, and the requirement that less-senior officers would manage fire scenes because of the reduction in the number of battalion chiefs and their duty reassignments.”

The Court concluded that the City’s proposed layoffs and restructuring could well “impact the safety of working conditions for firefighters, and, as such, were mandatory for collective bargaining. Since both state law and the Association’s collective bargaining agreement required the City to maintain the ‘status quo’ with respect to mandatory subjects of bargaining during negotiations for a successor agreement,” the Court upheld the issuance of an injunction prohibiting the City from implementing the restructuring plan.

Detroit Fire Fighters Association v. City of Detroit, 2006 WL 1236770 (Mich.App. 2006).

This article appears in the December 2006 issue