Failure To Protest Change Results In New Past Practice

From 1994 to 2004, firefighters working for the Town of Framingham, Massachusetts were required to clean the ceramic tiles on the first floor of the fire headquarters building. In 2004, the Department changed policies, and required firefighters to both “strip” and clean the ceramic tiles on the first floor as well as clean floors on the second floor of the building. Local 1652 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, which represents the Town’s firefighters, filed two grievances concerning the second floor requirements, but neither grievance went to arbitration. In addition, neither grievance mentioned the first floor responsibilities.

In 2006, the Town required firefighters to strip the ceramic tiles on the first floor prior to cleaning them. The Town gave firefighters a different chemical cleaner and a new brush. Local 1652 challenged the new requirements through filing a grievance under the maintenance of benefits clause in the collective bargaining agreement.

An arbitrator rejected the grievance. The Arbitrator concluded that the change in 2004 effectively established a new past practice that set the baseline against which future changes in practice would be assessed. Since Local 1652 did not challenge the 2004 practice through the arbitration process, the Arbitrator held that firefighters were bound by the 2004 practice.

From the perspective of the firefighters, while the process they used in 2006 was more labor intensive than it had been in the past, the changes in the process were not significant enough to give rise to the obligation to collectively bargain. In the eyes of the Arbitrator, the difference between the 2004 and the 2006 processes “did not constitute a substantial change in job duties.”

Town of Framingham, Massachusetts, LAIG 6580 (Altman, 2007).

This article appears in the May 2008 issue