‘Shall’ In Firefighter Contract Eliminates An Employer’s Discretion

The collective bargaining agreement between Local 750 of the International Association of Fire Fighters and the City of Hamtramck, Michigan contains a clause on release time dealing with union activity release time. The clause mandates that Local 750 representatives “shall” be allowed reasonable time during regular work hours for union activities.

Facing a fiscal crisis, the City began to restrict union leave. For example, the City insisted that union leave would only be granted if no other firefighter called in sick, an event which would bring the City below minimum staffing.

Local 750 challenged the City’s restrictions in the arbitration process. An arbitrator upheld the grievance.
The Arbitrator pointed to the word “shall” in the contract as imposing a mandatory obligation on the City. The Arbitrator ruled that “the City cannot simply ignore its contractual obligations because it would be difficult to afford what it has agreed to.” In the eyes of the Arbitrator, though the “reasonable time” language in the union release clause was important, it did not override the City’s obligation to provide leave time at Local 750’s request.

City of Hamtramck, LAIG 6596 (Lyons, 2007).

This article appears in the July 2008 issue