The Brookline Firefighters Union filed a Prohibited Practice against The Town of Brookline with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Department of Labor Relations for what it says is the town’s failure to respond to a July 6 letter requesting to start the bargaining process. A couple weeks later it asked the Department of Labor Relations to hold off.
What’s going on?
The union said it sent an email to the HR department and when that was nоt answered it reached out to the Town Administrator on August 8. They then filed a formal charge on August 18, citing the town’s refusal to come to the bargaining table.
But the Director of Human Resources Sandra DeBow said it is a bit more complicated than that. She had been in conversations with the union for different reasons and answered the July 6 email which was about a different matter, but which did ask about starting the contract bargaining process up again. Although the email came just before she went on vacation, she was able to get the bulk of the first part of the email answered. And did not think she needed to respond to the second part so quickly, she said.
“I don’t know what the rush was all about, it’s not normal to request to start contract negotiations this early,” she said. She said it’s more common practice to start negotiation discussions around December.
When she came back from her holiday around July 12, she had a note on her desk alerting her to the fact that Town Administrator Mel Kleckner had responded to a message from the union saying the town would set up a meeting with the union to negotiate “at its earliest convenience,” said DeBow.
“When a contract is ending you start bargaining again. The rule is generally six months out the parties start contacting one another,” she said.
The current contract does nоt end until June 30, 2018. It began on July 1, 2017.
“In December or January the union sends out a letter. And so that’s when everyone sets dates. This is very unusual that they would ask to bargain so soon,” she said.
On August 18, the union filed a claim against the town and then three days later on Monday, August 21 DeBow and the union saw each other at a Department Of Labor pre-hearing for a different matter: The union was looking to file a complaint against The Town of Brookline for Prohibited Practice of placing injured firefighters on Family and Medical leave while also out injured on duty.
“We hear you loud and clear,” said DeBow when she saw them there and offered to set up a time to sit down at the bargaining table.
On August 24 the two sides agreed to a date. The union’s attorney then put a hold on the Department of Labor Relations action until after the bargaining date on September 13. (watch for an article on this to come).
“We’re going through the normal course, even though it’s six months earlier than the normal process would start,” said DeBow who stressed the town was surprised that the union would file such a complaint. “But if they want to sit down and start bargaining [this early] we’re happy to do it.”
Jennifer Smith, the attorney for the Brookline Fire Fighters union did not respond to request for comment in time for publication. When she does we will update.