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Judge Rules Against Town In NK Firefighter Case

But he stays the ruling pending review by the state Supreme Court.

Kent County Courthouse. Credit: kent.countycriminal.com
Kent County Courthouse. Credit: kent.countycriminal.com

North Kingstown firefighters got just about everything they could want from Superior Court Judge Brian Stern’s ruling Monday over the Town of North Kingstown’s imposition of a 24-hour shift schedule in 2011. Stern ruled the town was wrong when it said negotiations were at an impasse and it had the right to unilaterally impose a new 24-hour shift schedule on the NK Fire IAFF Local1651.

Stern read highlights from his 54-page decision for more than 30 minutes. But at the end of his recitation, he said he was staying the ruling (delaying its imposition) pending review of the entire matter by the state Supreme Court. In other words, nothing immediate will happen to reverse the shift schedule as a result of Stern’s ruling.

The town imposed the 24-hour shift schedule on firefighters in January 2012, citing potential savings of $1 million the first year. Under the system, firefighters work 24 hours on, 48 hours off. Before that, they had worked two 10-hour days and two 10-hour nights, with four days off.

The town had argued it was able to impose the schedule because contract negotiations were at an impasse.

Judge Stern, alternatively, said state law prohibits the town from declaring an impasse and acting unilaterally.

“There’s no opt-out of mandatory binding arbitration,” he said Monday.

“Obviously, we’re incredibly happy with the result,” said union head Ray Furtado at the courthouse following the ruling. “It’s pretty clear that it reinforces our position all along. The town bargained in bad faith…. We’re hopeful that it does lead them back to the table, to bargain in good faith on a resolution to this whole situation.”

By Monday evening, Town Council President Liz Dolan had not yet been able to review the ruling – no town officials were at the courthouse when the decision was handed down – but she said Judge Stern’s ruling was not unexpected.

“What we expected was an adverse decision,” she said. “Ultimately it will be up to the Supreme Court.”

In December 2012, Stern ruled that the town did not have the right to implement a 24-hour work shift for its firefighters without first negotiating or winning in arbitration. He notably ordered town officials to "unring the bell" on the change in wages, hours and other work conditions that had been implemented earlier that year.

In February 2013, the town appealed that decision to the state Supreme Court and in May, that court stayed the Superior Court’s ruling to “unring the bell” until the larger issues were decided. Meanwhile, the union filed complaints of unfair labor practices with the state Labor Relations Board (LRB). In September, the LRB ruled in favor of the firefighters. The town appealed that ruling and sought a stay in its implementation; the stay was granted. Meanwhile, the various filings were combined into one case. Stern’s ruling Monday addressed that case.

The case will now go to the Supreme Court, which could issue a ruling by June. 

Meanwhile, Furtado said the union had met with the town twice already to discuss the 2014-15 collective bargaining agreement. 

"We’ve had two meetings and the last offer from the union to the town would bring this to a conclusion. It would return us to our safer shifts. It would erase close to $2 million in damages that are currently owed to us in back wages. We’re willing to make that sacrifice just to get this behind us and to move forward together as a community," he said. "We’re willing to make that sacrifice just to get this behind us and to move forward together as a community." Ed. Note: this paragraph was amended Jan. 7, 7:50 a.m. 

The union estimates the town owes its members $2.8 million in back wages. Furtado said with the 12 percent interest decreed by the LRB, the total is in the mid-$3 million range.

The case now goes to the Supreme Court, which could rule by June.

Recent "Town vs. NKFF" stories include:

From Oct. 18: Supreme Court Denies Firefighter Motion

From Oct. 7: Judge Issues Partial Stay, Sends Case To Supreme Court

From Sept. 30: Labor Board Sides With Firefighters, Against 24-Hour Shifts

proud firefighter January 07, 2014 at 04:42 PM
NK Indie, I am familiar with the labor lawyer. His name is Dan Kinder and i do not think he is doing anything for a lower rate. he has a history of leading town councils down similar roads. of the many cases he has brought I do not believe he has prevailed in one. He makes his money by selling the "possibilities of victory" to council members who know no better. he makes his rate weather he wins or loses( usually losing). He was also involved in the action against the firefighters in woonsocket with former mayor Fontaine. I do not believe he will have a chance to bring that action to conclusion as the new mayor has a new vision. I wish Mr. Kinder was doing his show for a reduced fee however I think he is just squeezing the taxpayers of NK for all they are worth. You will also notice he never takes on a larger department, his goal is to drown the smaller unions in appeals and hope they run out of either money or the will to fight before a judge rules. The Firefighters in NK have called his bluff and stood strong together to the detriment of their own finances. But I think they will be proud of themselves and will be a stronger brotherhood when this episode is finally concluded.
Concerned Resident January 07, 2014 at 05:01 PM
many hard working honest north kingstown tax paying residents continue to be amazed that regardless of the community the ff are the only ones that have it right, not the tax paying residents, not the elected town officials or any other that offers an opinion that is a threat to your club. in case it slipped by you there was an election last year after the shift change with town council members that voted in favor of the change being reelected. imagine that. Come to think of it didn’t a ff also run for town council? Imagine that. I’m sorry, I’ll quit with the facts that you do not want to read.
NKIndie January 07, 2014 at 05:11 PM
Yes there was an election. It is not the voters fault that they were lied to. We were told this was a cost savings measure and had to happen and would not interfere with public safety. Maloney and Welch both lied making it appear they were against spending legal money to fight this. Where is the savings?
NKIndie January 07, 2014 at 05:25 PM
Proud Firefighter, Thank you for the information. Maybe a public records request after the dust settles will reveal the true legal costs. I don't understand why the council has made this such a big issue. There are much broader things they should be spending time and resources on. It seems they have made this fight about them and political ideologies. Firefighters, police, teachers, town and school employees, coaches, small business owners are all part of the fabric of this town. Many of these people will work and live in this town for over 30 years, yet the council positions shift with the wind and revolved every couple of years. This is a sad case that a few people will try to make political points and the town as a whole will suffer. I thought of it this way.. Will the town suffer if the fire department continued on a 4 platoon system? No it won't. Will it suffer by the council making this a fight? Yes! Win, lose or draw damage is already done and continues. Legal costs won't be recovered. Opportunity costs of spending the money, time and resources on worthwhile projects that will make the town a better place. It is a shame a few public officials (some who have already moved out of state ) have brought this uneccessary black cloud over the town. We can only hope they come to their senses put their pride behind them and settle the dispute.
TaxPayer-2oo January 07, 2014 at 06:05 PM
I am a tax payer too. I am sick of the $$ being spent when the head of the TC know's the law! As a matter of fact Kinder still has the Brown and Sharp Case! As the judge said you can not come into GOOD Faith agreements and say this page or no way! so if i get a tax levy then so be it! that is who was elected! now CR are u concerned about ur house burning to the ground? or if you have a heart attack? cuz u should because if they cut any more u will die!!!!!!
historycomesback January 07, 2014 at 06:23 PM
People never learn. Houeston should know better. When she was a teacher in warwick when Mr.Kinders partner Bill Powers stole the tax payers money from Warwick in a very similar management rights fight. Mr.Powers lost in court and with the labor board but continued to convince the Warwick School dept he could win so he could take the tax payers money. Dan Kinder is a salesman selling magic snake oil. He is following the same game plan that Bill Powers tried and lost with in Warwick between 1992 and 1995.
dphs18 January 07, 2014 at 07:30 PM
Lawyers are legalized thieves. I'd rather see the money go to public servants rather than the slithering snakes.
Matt Leonard January 07, 2014 at 09:14 PM
Let us move from the era of confrontation, lawyers and court rooms to the era of negotiation.
proud firefighter January 07, 2014 at 09:42 PM
Concerned , I do not deny any of the facts you just stated. please do not tell me what i do or do not want to read. everything in your last post was a correct fact. there was an election, there may or may not be "many"taxpayers amazed at the firefighters position. and you and all of the other amazed taxpayers who think as you do have every right to your OPINION. but a town council election in NK does not change contract law or RI statute despite what you want, wish for or dream of. and that is an indesputable FACT not my opinion. This fact is not the opinion of just the firefighters but also a republican superior court judge, and I assure you that his DETERMINATION of FACT (not opinion) holds much more weight than your opinion in the court of law. so if you would like to stick to facts I am game,
Concerned Resident January 08, 2014 at 08:29 AM
pf, please do tell me what I do not want to read, really?? not sure if you don’t or don’t want to get it. the ff, ff affiliated and “again” first time posters prefer to look at what they want opposed to what the majority of residents prefer in long term real savings which was reaffirmed during the last election. Many posts claiming that ff care about residents, really?? prove it!! posted it before but if you missed it I’ll repost, if you and other ff are so sure of your position I would suggest you push for a north kingstown taxpaying resident ballot vote putting an end to this nonsense. otherwise if you are a north kingstown ff as demonstrated during the last election I suggest that you and your family enjoy your 10% pay increase and join all other town employee’s in doing their job as defined by town leaders which were elected by north kingstown taxpaying residents.
RS January 08, 2014 at 09:17 AM
PF, you can't argue with concerned resident. He is either on the council or Mr Kinder. He has blinders on. Where are all these taxpayers that support the council????? I don't see them at meetings showing their support for this fiasco. I don't see them screaming for more court fights. Don't talk about caring for residents. The FFs gave the TC a way out of this mess. They offered to let the Town off the hook for the unpaid wages. 10% pay increase? Yes their RATE of pay was increased but they work more hours so they actually took a pay cut. CR won't tell you that. Put it on a ballot? As soon as we can all have State Law on a ballot you can do that.
wickchevy January 08, 2014 at 09:27 AM
10 % pay increase?? you are not good at math.
NK Gumshoe January 08, 2014 at 04:23 PM
And ask NKFD what they did today? How about delivering a baby and saving a life!!!
Politics Sheriff of NK January 08, 2014 at 04:51 PM
Judge Stern, alternatively, said state law prohibits the town from declaring an impasse and acting unilaterally. “There’s no opt-out of mandatory binding arbitration,” he said Monday. THAT PRETTY MUCH SUMS IT UP. (AGAIN). NK TOWN COUNCIL AGGRESSORS WOULD HAVE BEEN MUCH BETTER OFF TRYING TO CHANGE THE STATE LABOR LAW, RATHER THAN BREAK IT. THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN THE HIGH ROAD TOWARD THEIR OWN GOALS OF PAYING FF'S LESS.
dphs18 January 08, 2014 at 04:59 PM
Show a little modesty NK Gumshoe, it's called doing your job. Stop acting like the RI Highway Patrol who feels the need to call a press conference every time they arrest someone.
NK Gumshoe January 08, 2014 at 05:26 PM
Press Conference? Col. Brown Boots has that claim... NK Public Safety has long been the watch captain here in NK and touting a job well done is not a press conference! It is just enlighting a few townspeople who may never know what we do day to day... When was the last time you saved a life or delivered a life and gone home with a sense of pride!! Let us have the little bit...and maybe we'll show up on your door step some day and you'll be thankful for NK Public Safety!!!
dphs18 January 08, 2014 at 05:54 PM
You're still just doing your job and you're getting paid as a full time employee doing part time work. Just accept the outrageous salary and benefits you get and silently go about your work.
NK Gumshoe January 08, 2014 at 05:59 PM
guess that makes me that smart one here!!! TYVM...
RS January 08, 2014 at 08:46 PM
Well, dphs18 is another council person. They are the only ones who seem to think of the job as part time. I think a 56 hour work week goes beyond full time. Go ahead, say that they aren't putting out fires every minute of the shift....... You are REQUIRING them to be available, hence you pay them for their availability. Can you please say what is so outrageous about the salary????? They are among the lowest paid in the state. Can you please tell us what you think the salary should be in your tea party anti union opinion?????
dphs18 January 08, 2014 at 09:18 PM
You union guys always conveniently include all that ZZ time as work time. Since you're comparing yourself to other parts of the state, then compare yourself to Bristol where the salary is zero, as in volunteer.
RS January 08, 2014 at 11:44 PM
Are you requiring them to be at work away from home? Then you PAY for the time. You want volunteers....move to Bristol. The two communities aren't the same. You want volunteers????? Good luck finding them. Everyone else in the state is having trouble finding them or keeping them.
Concerned Resident January 09, 2014 at 08:14 AM
looks like rs is a roving patch poster commenting on community ff issues. last I checked no one is forcing you or any other ff to be at work away from home. there is a job description with each employee deciding if they want to work or not work. regarding your volunteer statement, if you do not like the job description you can move on. good luck finding another job. you might want to read a paper to find how many residents defined as individuals that pay your wages are having trouble finding a job. Please come down from the clouds and live in the real world.
JB January 09, 2014 at 10:01 AM
Harriett Harriett Harriett..........
RS January 09, 2014 at 10:15 AM
Hey CR, No one is forcing us, but when we took the job we agreed to be paid for the hours. I'm not sure what your argument is. I read the description of the job, I applied, took a test and was hired. Simple. Now you want to change hours, reduce pay and sit here and say I shouldn't be paid for all those hours....only some of them. Volunteer???? I did that for 14 years.... Can you say that????? Why don't YOU go and give back to your community. Volunteer for anything and make a difference.
Concerned Resident January 09, 2014 at 10:54 AM
rs, I suggest you talk to your neighbors to better understand what is really happening in the town, state, country and world. many that are fortunate to have a job have had to and are adjusting to altered work hours, pay and benefits. little secret for you, nothing is forever and guess what, that includes public employees. with great pride I canwrite that I also volunteer to help others and you are to be commended for working as a volunteer for 14 years. perhaps you should think about returning to your roots.
wickchevy January 09, 2014 at 11:12 AM
Concerned. if you are such a concerned resident why is the only thing you ever comment on in your history only under Firefighter columns? Is it because you hate Firefighters? Please don't take my word for it look at your history. Were there not other columns you were concerned with in the past? FYI... Yes i live in NK and am a Firefighter in another Community.
wickchevy January 09, 2014 at 11:15 AM
What…. come on you don't care whats happening in the TOWN you just want to see the Firefighters get hurt….. you are a fraud… What you couldn't pass the test? what is it really?? its not taxes or we would see your name more often. its not because you care about the town or we would see your name more often??
Concerned Resident January 09, 2014 at 11:51 AM
wicky, I care about north kingstown making many positive contributions to the town. Besides wanting more what have you done for the town?? it is childish comments such as yours that shows much. I suggest you look at my previous posts to see why I have responded the way I have. I want to see ff get hurt?? where have I ever indicated that?? another childish rubbish post by you, please grow up stopping this imature poor me attitude.
NK January 11, 2014 at 05:21 PM
CR: how much do you pay in taxes yearly to the town? I'm just curious the amount that you passionately post about. I love your enthusiasm.
wickchevy January 20, 2014 at 09:52 AM
Right NK... CR wants us to look at the Police for their contribution. OK I will its a good organization with a STARTING salary of 46k a year plus bennifits (help wanted in Sundays pro.Jo.) that's more than a top step Firefighter.. so again its not the taxes! Its not the $1.00 a day cost of having a Firedept. Its about your hate weight.....

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