NEW HAVEN, CT – It might be the most expensive 100 or so pieces of facial hair in the fire union’s history.
But the debate over the soul patch appears to be over as the Connecticut State Board of Labor Relations recently dismissed a case filed by firefighter Darrell Brooks against the Local 825 New Haven Firefighters Union.
Brooks filled the complaint pro se against the union in 2011; it stemmed from a hairy situation in September 2009 in which Brooks was ordered by a superior to shave his soul patch, according to the board’s decision document.
“The decision speaks for itself,” said Frank Ricci, vice president of the fire union. “(The union) represents all our members equally and we work hard for our member.”
Union President James Kottage said he was still reviewing the document, but also said that “the decision speaks for itself.”
At the time of the order to shave the facial hair in 2009, Brooks called Kottage, who was then the union’s secretary and treasurer, and said he would likely not comply with the order to shave.
The incident escalated and Battalion Chief John King advised Kottage that he would take Engine 8 out of service until he could find a replacement for Brooks, according to the decision document.
Kottage spoke to King and a deal was worked out where Brooks wouldn’t face discipline if he shaved. Brooks then agreed to shave and there was no disciplinary action taken, according to the document.
Brooks eventually met with the union and Fire Chief Michael Grant about the incident and he agreed to remain clean-shaven, according to the document. Brooks later discussed filing a grievance with the union over the incident.
Assistant Chief Patrick Egan, then union president, informed Brooks that the union couldn’t grieve the issue because it had no merit, according to the document. Brooks went on to file a grievance that alleged he was subject to an unreasonable order and denied his right to union representation.
The board arrived at the conclusion that Kottage conducted an investigation and found the department had a longstanding policy against firefighters wearing beards and that the union didn’t act in bad faith, according to the document.
Brooks couldn’t be reached for comment at press time.