Judge Rules Against Firefighter Staffing Clause

ANDERSON, IN — In a clear victory for the city of Anderson, Circuit Court Judge Dennis Carroll on Tuesday invalidated part of a union contract with firefighters that bars layoffs and sets minimum staffing levels.

In his 27-page decision, Carroll said that under Indiana law, municipal employers have the right to lay off employees based on economic concerns, calling it a core management right that can’t be bargained away.

“This court concludes that those provisions of the agreement which prevent layoffs and set minimum staffing levels are void and of no legal effect,” Carroll wrote.

He said the Indiana General Assembly has concluded that core management responsibilities for local government include the right to lay off employees, direct the workforce and maintain efficiency in government operations.

In short, Carroll wrote, “the General Assembly has recognized its authority to reduce the size of its public sector workforce based upon economic need.”

Anderson city attorney Jason Childers said he was happy with the decision.

“We accomplished what we felt was our core objective,” he said, which is to manage city finances in a way that ensures “we are providing equal services across the board to everyone.”

Carroll’s decision sets the stage for laying off as many as 20 city firefighters and seven police officers, which the Smith administration says are necessary to close a budget deficit in fiscal 2013.

The decision was issued on the same day the City Council began consideration of $1.3 million in budget amendments proposed by Democratic City Councilman David Eicks designed to preserve the jobs of as many police officers and firefighters as possible.

“The court action today clearly bolstered the responsibility and right that we have as city leaders to have a balanced budget that the citizens can afford,” Smith said.

Although Carroll conceded the full extent of the city’s fiscal problems may be in dispute, “the fact remains that the city faces a significant fiscal shortfall for 2013 that requires large reductions to the city’s budget.”

Similarly, Carroll said Local 1262 of the International Association of Firefighters presented creditable evidence that Fire Chief Phillip Rogers’ plans for dealing with the impact of proposed layoffs may be flawed.

But, he added, “there is no reason to conclude, however, that the city’s plan is fixed or final. It is likely subject to adjustment based on an ongoing analysis of public safety needs.”

Carroll did not side with the city completely.

He upheld binding arbitration requirements in the contract. He also ruled that the agreement’s parity provision, which says if a raise negotiated with another city union is more than one granted firefighters, then they, too, will be entitled to the higher raise.

“There are always economic, contractual, and societal constraints on wage negotiations and salary agreements,” Carroll wrote. “Parity is simply one of those constraints. Therefore, this provision is valid and enforceable.”

Local 1262 President Jon Smith said he was disappointed with Carroll’s ruling, but encouraged that the City Council offered alternative budget cuts with an idea of reducing layoffs.

“I think it says the council wasn’t happy with the budget the mayor presented to them and recognizes the importance of public safety in the city.”

From The Herald Bulletin