Having Captains Rather Than Lieutenants Respond To Fires Violates Contract

The collective bargaining agreement between Union Township, Ohio and Local 3412 of the International Association of Fire Fighters has a safety clause that mandates that there be a minimum staffing per fire station of no less than one full-time lieutenant and three firefighters. The clause also mandates that all fire apparatus have a minimum of two personnel, including one full-time lieutenant and one full-time firefighter, prior to responding to emergency details.

Local 3412 filed a series of three grievances challenging the Department’s use of captains in place of lieutenants. An arbitrator largely upheld the grievances.

The Arbitrator held that even if the collective bargaining agreement could be said to be ambiguous, there was a consistent past practice where captains replaced lieutenants only for short or limited periods of time when last-minute or late notice was given by a lieutenant of his/her absence prior to an assigned shift, and only during the time it took the Township to take reasonable efforts to locate and have an off-duty lieutenant serve as a replacement for the entire shift. Because the Township failed to introduce any evidence that it did not have sufficient notice of the lieutenants’ absence from their normal duty stations on the occasions that caused the grievance, the Arbitrator concluded that “those grievances, therefore, must be granted.”

The only exception the Arbitrator carved out in his award was with respect to a grievance where there were two existing emergencies at the time another structural fire occurred requiring action. The Arbitrator found that under theses conditions, “extenuating circumstances” existed that allowed the Department to assign a captain rather than a lieutenant to an emergency run.

In devising a remedy, the Arbitrator took into account “the cordiality and mutual respect that obviously existed for many years between the Township, its management, the union, and its officers and membership.” The Arbitrator therefore ordered only the payment of one hour of pay to be paid to off-duty lieutenants for each occasion when a captain was used in place of a lieutenant in violation of the contract.

Union Township, 124 LA 403 (Frockt, 2007).

This article appears in the March 2008 issue