Firefighters Win Union Labor Case Against City

Haverhill must negotiate with the firefighters’ union before changing training requirements, the state Department of Labor Relations ruled this week.

A hearing officer ruled the city should have obtained union consent when it changed the way firefighters, represented by Haverhill Firefighters Local 1011, IAFF, comply with the state’s Ethics Reform Law. Previously, the union argued, firefighters completed the online ethics test without supervision. In 2013, however, the city began requiring tests be taken under the supervision of the training officer because of “previous ethics violations by the city’s firefighters.”

“…the law does not include a review of the employer’s reason for taking the alleged unlawful act. Justification is not a defense to a charge that an employer has made unilateral changes in a mandatory subject of bargaining,” ruled Hearing Officer Nicholas Chalupa.

“This case is an important reminder that obligations imposed by state law on municipalities do not relieve these public employers from negotiating with unions about how to comply with the law,” said attorney Jillian Ryan on behalf of the union.

Ryan explained Massachusetts’ law requires public employees to complete ethics training every two years. “The law does not specify how employees must complete the training, such as whether on duty or in the presence of a supervisor. During the first year of implementation, the city’s Human Resources Department issued a memo that allowed all employees to take the training on or off duty. The city merely required employees to produce a copy of the completion certificate by a certain date,” he said.

“During the second round of training, the city sent out a memo confirming that employees could use the same method of compliance as the first round. However, after several firefighters already completed training a second time, (Chief Richard Borden) demanded that all firefighters complete the training under the supervision of the training officer. This requirement had never been imposed before,” Ryan said.

Attorney David Grunebaum represented the city. Haverhill is considering appealing the decision, said City Solicitor William D. Cox Jr. Grunebaum argued Borden cited a record of ethics issues stemming from the emergency medical technician (EMT) test scandal of 2010. Firefighter Jeffrey Givens was fired and more than 20 other firefighters suspended. The state Department of Public Health said at the time, firefighters “aided, abetted and/or permitted EMTs to obtain supplemental training credits or refresher courses that never took place.”