Contract Requires That Lateral-Entry Firefighter’s Wages, Benefits Be Reduced

All firefighters employed by the Town of Andover, Massachusetts, except the Fire Chief, are represented by the Andover Fire Fighters, Local 1658, for purposes of collective bargaining. Ordinarily, the wage steps for a firefighter entering service with the town are P, A, B, and C, with newly-hired firefighters beginning employment at the P pay step and remaining there for one year. In each successive year, the firefighter moves up one step, until after three years, he reaches the C step where he remains for the duration of his career, subject to increases not relevant here. Similarly, the collective bargaining agreement provides that a newly-hired firefighter does not receive vacation leave until completion of one full year of “continuous service” with the Fire Department. After completion of that year, the firefighter receives yearly vacation leave allotments in accordance with the respective years on the job.

As a result of a prior settlement agreement entered between the Town and Local 1658 in 1994, the collective bargaining agreement included wage and vacation leave provisions that a firefighter who transferred from another town’s fire department and remained for a period of two years would, after that two-year period, receive credit for time previously employed in the other department for purposes of wage step placement, longevity, and vacation leave allotment.

In 2008, Michael Byerley voluntarily transferred to the Town from the Haverhill Fire Department. Upon commencement of his employment with the Town, Byerley received pay at the highest wage step, C, rather than at step P and was allotted vacation time prior to completing one year of continuous service, all in violation to the CBA.

Local 1658 filed grievance and prohibited practice charges relative to the Town’s grant to Byerley of wages and vacation leave benefits. In a 2009 settlement of those charges, the Town and Local 1658 agreed that Byerley was to be placed at a wage step (P) and vacation leave allotment (none prior to one continuous year of service) in accordance with the CBA.

Byerley then sued both the Town and Local 1658, contending that the reduction of his wages and vacation violated a state civil service law on transferring employees. An appeals court found to the contrary. As the Court described, “nothing in the civil service scheme governs the wage, step, and vacation leave provisions of a CBA. Byerley’s compensation was not reduced within the meaning of the state civil service law because under the CBA the Town could not lawfully contract with Byerley to pay him a higher rate than the CBA provided. Under the express terms of state law, Local 1658 is the exclusive bargaining agent for unit members, including Byerley, and the CBA between the Town and Local 1658 controls the terms and conditions of Byerley’s employment, including wages and benefits such as vacation leave and longevity. No conflict with the core principles underlying civil service law prohibits the Town and Local 1658 from agreeing to wage rates for firefighters regardless of prior service to another community. To the extent that Byerley was promised greater benefits by the Fire Chief, and was initially paid at that higher grade, such an agreement would be an unlawful individual agreement concerning a mandatory subject of bargaining.”

Byerley v. Town of Andover, 2012 WL 425873 (Mass. App. Ct. 2012).