Because Fire Union Allowed Part-Time Firefighters In The Past, No Obligation To Bargain Over Consolidated Public Safety Agency

Leoni Township, Michigan and Local 1766 of the International Association of Fire Fighters are parties to a collective bargaining agreement. A clause in the contract provides that “part-time firefighters not covered by terms of this agreement may perform work covered by this agreement for purposes of instruction, training, fill-in, or in case of emergency.”

In 2007, part-time firefighters responded to between one fifth and one fourth of all emergency calls handled by the Fire Department. Part-time firefighters were also assigned to help staff fire stations and parts of shifts to fill in for full-time firefighters.

In response to a budget shortfall and complaints from citizens about service levels, the Township decided to consolidate its police and fire departments. Local 1766 challenged the decision, alleging that the consolidation resulted in the assignment of bargaining unit work to non-bargaining unit police officers, and was mandatory for collective bargaining.

Michigan’s Employment Relations Commission rejected the challenge. The Commission found that the work of firefighters had not exclusively been performed by Local 1766’s members in the past, a conclusion fatal to the notion the work was exclusively the province of bargaining unit members. The Commission ruled “a union that has strictly policed the performance of its work by non-unit employees should not be found to have given up all claims to that work by agreeing to permit non-unit employees to do the work under the restricted circumstances. However, in this case, the contract grants the Township a broad right to use part-time firefighters to fill in for full-time firefighters. Although the part-time firefighters spend less time in the fire stations and responded to few calls, there does not appear to have been a bright line drawn between their work and that of the full-time firefighters. The record does not establish that any of the duties the Township proposed to transfer to its police/public safety officers had been exclusively performed by Local 1766’s bargaining unit.”

Leoni Township, #C08-D-060 (Mich. ERC 2009).

This article appears in the April 2010 issue