Timeliness Objections Must Be Raised Early In Grievance Procedure

The Fire Department of the Town of Stoughton, Massachusetts contracted with a laundry service to wash not only various linens and towels used by firefighters, but also firefighters’ uniforms. After receiving a number of complaints from firefighters about the quality of the service, the Town determined that the contractor was not separating uniforms from the towels and linens before washing them, resulting in potential contamination. The Town terminated the contract, and required firefighters to do the laundry themselves.

Local 1512 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, representing the Town’s rank-and-file firefighters, challenged the Town’s decision in arbitration. The Town responded that the Local’s grievance was not filed in a timely fashion, and that the collective bargaining agreement did not specifically limit its ability to assign firefighters to do their laundry.

An arbitrator ruled that the Town’s “timeliness” argument was not itself raised in a timely fashion. The Arbitrator cited longstanding law that timeliness objections to a grievance had to be raised early in the grievance procedure, and not for the first time at arbitration.

Turning to the grievance itself, the Arbitrator concluded that an 18-year past practice of not requiring firefighters to do their own laundry was sufficiently longstanding to effectively become part of the collective bargaining agreement. The Arbitrator ordered the Town to negotiate a new contract for an outside laundry service.

Town of Stoughton, Massachusetts, LAIG 6683 (Cochran, 2008).

This article appears in the April 2009 issue