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Judge Orders NK to 'Unring the Bell' With Firefighters' 24-Hour Shift

The North Kingstown firefighters' union scores a big win in court against the Town of North Kingstown.

Superior Court Judge Brian Stern has ruled that the Town of North Kingstown did not have the right to implement a 24-hour work shift for its firefighters without first negotiating or winning in arbitration. Now, Judge Stern is ordering town officials to "unring the bell" on the change in wages, hours and other work conditions that were passed earlier this year.

In January, the . The new ordinance moved firefighters from 12-hour shifts and upped their work week by 14 hours. Additionally, the ordinance decreased their pay per hour.

In his 28-page ruling, Judge Stern stated that the town did not have the right to make these changes after it lost in arbitration the year prior on the same exact issue. Back in 2011, the town's proposal for 24-hour shifts was shot down by an arbitration board that stated that North Kingstown financial situation "does not mandate such a drastic change."

In May, Stern ruled that the ordinance was "invalid" for having violated the town's charter. The court stated that even if the ordinance had been passed properly, it was still invalid because it conflicted with the Firefighters Arbitration Act by imposing changes to wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment without first bargaining or winning the changes via arbitration. Following that decision, town officials did not return to pre-ordinance wages or hours, arguing that the ordinance was not necessary to implement these changes.

According to Local 1651 Union President Ray Furtado, these changes have put a burden on the town's firefighters, forcing some to work double shifts due to understaffing. In statements to The Hummel Report, Furtado said that the down is liable for approximately $1.3 million in damages and backpay since the 24-hour shift went into effect in March.

Stern added that he anticipated town officials would challenge the ruling in Rhode Island Supreme Court and stayed the decision for 30 days to allow both sides to consent to the order or request a stay. He also added that this process would be a "large costly undertaking" and that the town may also be "required to compensate firefighters for the period since those unilateral changes were made." 

 

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ru4real December 18, 2012 at 02:26 PM
@Jeff--The TC is the problem! They have the final yeah or nay. @Gov--The last collective bargaining agreement has been rolling forward annually. The town has committed multiple legal issues by following some parts and exceeding their authority in other parts. They can't have it both ways legally. There is no way that a higher court is going to uphold the town or this foolish TC. If the taxpayers (notice I did not say voters) don't stand up and demand some clear cut reasonability on the part of the TC and the town officials then maybe some of us will make the attempt to recall them all! As well as fire the others. Enough is enough. We pay the freight and these fools are wasting time and a lot of taxpayer money.
RS December 18, 2012 at 02:36 PM
Govstench, you'll notice the Judges ruling mentions something called the Firefighters Arbitration Act. That State Law keeps a previous contract in place until a new one is signed either by negociation or arbitration. Even though the contract expired, both sides are bound by State Law to keep working under the old one. If the Town doesn't like this law, they should instruct their Stae Reps and Senators to change the law before violating it. The Towns lawyer and TC should have known this because it's not a new law.
Level Head December 18, 2012 at 02:46 PM
Govstench, although I agree with your historical facts I think you have missed one very important tenant in this situation. I believe Police and Fire CBA's are statutorily bound through a binding arbitration process unlike the educators who do not have such statutory protection. Educators’ arbitration process is non-binding. Simply put, in the case of police and fire negotiations, when the two parties cannot agree all previous agreements remain until the arbitrator provides a new “binding award". If I made an error I’m all ears to the facts.
proud firefighter December 18, 2012 at 08:26 PM
Just some helpful info. Anyone trying to undercut the judges credibility should remember this. Judge Stearn is a CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICAN appointed to the bench by DON CARCEIRI, so remember he has no love for labor or unions, however he has correctly ruled on the LAW. and the posters who point out the difference between the teachers situation in EP and the police and fire arbitration situation are correct. the teachers do not have arbitration. The reason arbitration is a good idea for public safety is that with an old contract still in effect until a new one is agreed to the possibility of a strike is eliminated in a situation where the sides cannot quickly agree. While I understand that teachers are also not allowed to strike they do on occasion and when they do the consequences are not a severe as not having a police officer or rescue not available.
Dark star December 19, 2012 at 02:05 PM
yeah thats it....lets waste $10K because you weren't able to get your way in the past election. Give it up. Dolan and Hueston won the their re-election bid so you are obviously in the minority. Just do what everyone else does. Sit back, watch and take notes. In two years we will be doing it all again. A recall is a waste of time and money.

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