Attorney John Bielski Comments After Borough of Chambersburg Is Ordered to Reinstate Firefighter
September 3, 2014
Ruling Says Chambersburg was Unfair in Firing, Discipline Over Union Issues (Public Opinion News)
By Marcus Rauhut
The Borough of Chambersburg committed unfair labor practices when it fired a firefighter and disciplined another in 2012, according to a hearing examiner with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.
In an Aug. 21 proposed decision and order, Hearing Examiner Thomas Leonard ordered that Scott McNew, the vice president of International Association of Firefighters Local 1813 and former paid firefighter of the borough, be reinstated with full back pay.
Leonard also ordered that the borough rescind its discipline of another firefighter and union president, Patrick Martin.
"We're obviously pleased with the decision, but we're not surprised. It has always been our position that the union had the right to file the internal union charges and that the borough was wrong to fire Scott McNew and take disciplinary action against Pat Martin," said John R. Bielski, an attorney representing IAFF Local 1813. "We would hope that this would end the matter because we think it's a waste of taxpayer money at this point in time because we have won the case."
The borough said in a statement that council will soon deliberate on whether to take action in response to the recent decision by the hearing examiner.
"At this point, town council will likely wait to see if the full board of the PLRB supports the hearing examiner's position before deliberating on whether or not to appeal this opinion with respect to their authority to terminate the second firefighter given these circumstances," the statement said. "As this is a legal matter, still very much in the courts, it would be inadvisable for any individual member of town council to make a statement as to their personal opinion until the town council has an opportunity to publicly vote, one way or another, on whether to appeal this opinion."
Borough council voted to terminate McNew's employment and discipline Martin in July 2012.
The borough has paid firefighters, but also relies on mutual aid agreements with other volunteer fire companies. Some of these volunteer firefighters are also professional firefighters in other areas — and members of IAFF.
In 2011, the borough of Chambersburg notified IAFF Local 1813 it was planning to lay off some of its paid firefighters. Martin sent a letter to about 200 union members requesting that they do not respond to calls within the borough as volunteers because it would violate union bylaws to volunteer in a municipality that was considering laying off paid firefighters.
In April 2012, McNew sent letters bringing internal union charges against several union members who continued to volunteer after Martin's letter. Martin did not direct McNew to write the letters.
McNew withdrew the union charges in July 2012 after the borough received a $1.5 million grant that would prevent the layoffs, but he was fired later that month. The borough also issued Martin a written warning for failing to dissuade McNew from sending the April 2012 letter.
The borough defended the firing because it said McNew's actions were a threat to public safety. But in the recent proposed decision and order, the hearing examiner for the Labor Relations Board said the argument was "not persuasive" because the borough went ahead with firing McNew after the grant was awarded and he rescinded the internal union charges.
In the proposed order, the hearing examiner also said that the borough's discipline of Martin was "an improper interference" with internal union affairs.