Non-Union Battalion Chiefs Entitled To Union Benefit

Battalion chiefs assigned to Honolulu Fire Department are excluded from civil service protection, and are not part of the rand-and-file bargaining unit. On June 25, 2003, the Department implemented a “Rank for Rank Recall Program,” which entitled Department firefighters to work overtime to fill vacancies left by similarly ranked counterparts who had taken vacation leave. The Rank for Rank Program modified the rank-and-file collective bargaining agreement.

On July 10, 2004, many of the Department’s battalion chiefs sent a memorandum to the Fire Chief asking him to pursue the Rank for Rank Program for the battalion chiefs. When the City refused the request, the battalion chiefs sued.

Hawaii’s civil service law required the City to “ensure that adjustments for excluded civil service employees result in compensation and benefit packages that are at least equal to the compensation and benefit packages provided under collective bargaining agreements for counterparts and subordinates.” The Hawaii Court of Appeals found that the failure to implement the Program violated the law.

The City cited its Excluded Managerial Compensation Plan, which it contended satisfied the civil service requirements because it “resulted in a compensation and benefit package that generally equaled or exceeded the compensation and benefit package provided to subordinates.” The Court disagreed, finding that “battalion chiefs did not receive a compensation and benefit package at least equal to their counterparts and subordinates because (1) the EMCP package provided to battalion chiefs did not include the Rank for Rank benefit and (2) battalion chiefs’ subordinates’ compensation and benefit package did include the Rank for Rank benefit.”

The Court also found that granting battalion chiefs the benefits of the Program did not violate public policy by effectively granting the battalion chiefs bargaining rights. Instead, the Court concluded that the civil service law “does not provide battalion chiefs with bargaining rights, but requires adjustments for excluded civil service employees to result in compensation and benefit packages that are at least equal to the compensation and benefit packages provided under collective bargaining agreements for counterparts and subordinates.”

Arciero v. City and County of Honolulu, 2011 WL 6355166 (Hawai’i App. 2011).

This article appears in the February 2012 issue.