Local 117 of the New England Police Benevolent Association represents police dispatchers working for the City of Methuen, Massachusetts. Joseph Solomon was the police chief, and Robert Finn was the President of Local 117. In 2020, Local 117 and the City negotiated a Memorandum of Agreement providing dispatchers with eight hours of compensatory time per week for use after the pandemic was declared over.
On April 10, 2020, Solomon issued an order implementing the provisions of the MOA. Finn and Solomon agreed that Solomon, as the Chief, would be able to rescind this agreement if he deemed it necessary. On June 30, 2020, Solomon rescinded the MOA and returned all dispatchers to their pre-MOA shift schedule as of July 5, 2020. Local 117, which now had a dispatcher as its new president, responded by filing a “prohibited practice” charge with the Massachusetts Labor Committee, challenging the rescission of the MOA.
A hearing officer recommended the dismissal of the prohibited practice charge. The hearing officer began by writing, “I do not find that the language of the MOA shows that the City’s decision to cease giving the dispatchers the extra compensation time or extra day off per week was a repudiation of the agreement. Although the Union argued that the MOA stated that the terms of the agreement must remain in effect until the pandemic is over as declared by the federal government, the language of the MOA actually stated that ‘this is not precedent setting and normal staffing processes will be resumed after the COVID-19 Pandemic is declared over as determined by the federal government.’ The MOA did not explicitly state that all its provisions will remain in effect until the pandemic is over as declared by the federal government, only that ‘normal’ staffing processes will resume at that time. Additionally, the MOA does not explicitly link the end of the pandemic as declared by the federal government to the extra eight hours of compensation time per week for each dispatcher outlined in the agreement.
“If the language of an agreement is ambiguous, we examine applicable bargaining history to determine whether the parties reached an agreement. In this case, Finn and Solomon negotiated the terms of the MOA and agreed that Solomon, as the Chief, would be able to rescind this agreement if he deemed it necessary, without bargaining with the Union. The record is clear that the parties did not intend for the provisions of the MOA to remain in effect unless and until the pandemic was declared over by the federal government.
“The parties’ bargaining history clearly indicated that both parties understood that Solomon could end the terms of the agreement whenever he deemed it necessary for the Department. Thus, I do not find that Solomon’s decision to cease providing each dispatcher with one extra day off a week and crediting each dispatcher with eight hours of compensation time per week to use after the pandemic repudiated the parties’ MOA.
“Local 117 also alleged that the City violated the Law by rescinding the scheduling and compensation time provisions of the MOA without giving the Union prior notice and an opportunity to bargain to impasse or resolution over the decision and the impacts of that decision on employee terms and conditions of employment. A public employer violates the law when it unilaterally changes a condition of employment or implements a new condition of employment involving a mandatory subject of bargaining without first giving its employees’ exclusive collective bargaining representative notice and an opportunity to bargain to resolution or impasse. The duty to bargain extends to both conditions of employment established through custom and past practice, as well as those conditions of employment established through a collective bargaining agreement.
“Here, the City fulfilled its obligation to bargain over the decision to rescind the scheduling and compensation time provisions in the MOA at the time of the agreement. Solomon and Finn agreed that Solomon could end the MOA at any time without bargaining with the Union. On or about June 30, 2020, Solomon decided to end the provisions of the MOA, as he had bargained with the Union. As such, Solomon’s decision to rescind the scheduling and compensation time terms of the MOA did not violate the Law. Moreover, the City did not end the provisions of the MOA and implement new terms and conditions of employment. After Solomon rescinded the terms of the MOA, the City returned to the status quo that existed before the MOA for dispatcher schedules and compensation time accrual.”
City of Methuen, 2023 WL 7184541 (MA LRC 2023).
This article appears in the January 2024 issue of our monthly newsletter, Public Safety Labor News.
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