Arbitrator’s Fire Department Staffing Decision Upheld

The collective bargaining agreement between the City of Dayton, Ohio and Local 136 of the International Association of Fire Fighters contains a staffing clause providing that “in order to maintain operations in fire suppression, management intends to staff any service engines and ladders with a minimum of one fire officer and three firefighters. Both management and union realize that circumstances beyond either’s control may necessitate readjustments to this staffing commitment.”

In 2004, the City issued what became known as Fire Department Bulletin No. 4. Under Bulletin No. 4, the City announced that it intended to reduce staffing on fire engines to three persons.

Local 136 challenged the City’s decision in arbitration. When an arbitrator upheld the grievance and ordered the City not to reduce staffing below the four-person minimum, the City challenged the Arbitrator’s decision in court. Essentially, the City argued that the Arbitrator created additional staffing requirements with respect to the contract when he gave “great weight” to the National Fire Protection Association Guideline 1710, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Regulation 29 CFR § 1910.134, each of which deal with staffing.

The City’s argument was that the Arbitrator adopted the NFPA and OSHA guidelines and “mandated them to be binding upon the parties,” thus unlawfully incorporating extraneous documents into his interpretation of the contract. The Ohio Court of Appeals disagreed with the City, and upheld the Arbitrator’s opinion.

The Court reasoned that “it is undisputed that the NFPA and OSHA guidelines are not binding upon the parties. However, it is evident from the language in the contract that the NFPA and OSHA guidelines form the basis for the four-person minimum staffing rule agreed to by both the City and the Union. The contract was not created in a vacuum, and the Arbitrator did not exceed his authority when he gave great weight to the staffing requirements suggested by the NFPA.

“Nowhere in the Arbitrator’s opinion did he find that the City was bound by the NFPA and OSHA guidelines. He did, however, find that in the paramount interest of safety the four-person staffing rule suggested by the guidelines form the basis for the staffing requirement in the contract. Thus, it was not outside the province of the Arbitrator’s powers to find that a four-person staffing minimum remain in place.”

City of Dayton v. International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 136, 2007 WL 866999 (Ohio App. 2007).

This article appears in the May 2007 issue