The Town Council met in emergency session Monday morning to discuss its options in the wake of the State Labor Relations Board's strongly-worded ruling against it Friday.
After a brief explanation as to why they were meeting in with less than 48 hours notice (as is required by state law), President Liz Dolan said the council had no other option since the SLRB's ruling wasn't released until Friday mid afternoon.
"The Town Council and our lawyers obviously had to read the decision and digest it," she said. "Given the union and the labor board stance that the 4-platoon system had to be implemented immediately, and the word 'immediately' was used in the labor board decision, we have the right to appeal this decision and we called this meeting to discuss our rights with our attorneys."
They then went into closed session.
When they returned, more than an hour later, Dolan said the town's lawyer had filed a motion for a "stay" of the SLRB's decision in Providence Superior Court at 8:30 Monday morning. She said they learned while in executive session that the SLRB had filed its own petition in Washington Superior Court, asking the court to enforce its decision.
According to Dolan, the town is well within its rights to seek a stay, citing the decision by the Rhode Island Supreme Court in June saying the town could continue imposing 24-hour firefighter shifts pending final decision in the matter.
"We believe what we've done is legal under our charter with our management rights. And we strongly believe as a council if we don't have the right to do what we did, then it is not the elected body that can represent the taxpayers. We're pretty united in believing what we've done, what we're doing is legal," said Dolan.
"It's playing out in two different Superior Courts and the Supreme Court now, so we don't know."
"I was really disappointed that the town has elected to ignore another state law," said Ray Furtado, president of International Association of Firefighters, Local 1651, after the council's morning meeting.
"We had a positive labor relations ruling," he said. "The order says that we are to immediately return to our previous work schedule and previous wages and that's to be implemented immediately. We were fully prepared to comply with that. We had our personnel on both shifts to make sure there was no danger to public safety … Sunday morning ready to comply."
But a letter to Furtado from Town Manager Mike Embury dated Sept. 29, 6:22 a.m., made clear the town's decision it would not "immediately" follow the SLRB's decision, citing the earlier Supreme Court ruling as its reason.
"If any employees or employees fail to abide by this order and/or participate in the Union's threatened job action referenced above, the employee(s) will be subject to discipline, up to and including termination of employment."
Dolan said Monday the town would maintain the 24-hour shifts first implemented in March 2012.
"The directive is, until there is an order from the court that directs us directly to return to the old schedule, they will … remain on the current shift.
The orders come from our public safety officer, who is the Town Manager," she said.
The town's labor lawyer, Dan Kinder, is currently out of the country but in a phone interview, he said he wasn't surprised by the SLRB's 52-page decision, which he characterized as "highly partisan."
As to the decision's strong language – "We believe that the employer knew full well that it was engaging in an unlawful practice when it unilaterally changed the terms and conditions of employment and did so in an effort to 'push the envelope' within the labor relations community" – Kinder said, "It was surprising in that way."
The town's motion for a stay will be heard next week before Justice Luis Matos. Dolan said Monday evening she wasn't sure whether it would be heard on Oct. 8 or Oct. 9. The SLRB's motion will be heard Thursday, Oct. 3, in Washington County Superior Court before Judge Kristin Rodgers.
The council met briefly Monday at 6 p.m. but pending the two Superior Court hearings, they decided to adjourn and scheduled a meeting for Thursday at 5 p.m.