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Attorney for International Association of Firefighters Local 1813 John Bielski quoted in the Chambersburg Public Opinion News

October 23, 2013

Chambersburg's appeal denied: Suspending firefighter was wrong, examiners say (Chambersburg Public Opinion News)

By Lauren Cappuccio

CHAMBERSBURG -- The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board has issued a final order re-affirming that the borough erred in the suspension of a firefighter in the borough of Chambersburg.

The case began on Oct. 26, 2011, when Captain Patrick Martin, who also serves as president of International Association of Firefighters Local 1813, sent a letter to fellow members reminding them that union bylaws forbid volunteer activity within another affiliate's district.

Council perceived the letter to encouragement for volunteers to boycott assisting the borough in fighting fires.

Council voted to suspend Martin for 240 hours (10 work shifts) based on "conduct unbecoming an officer and neglect and violation of an official duty" and cited the letter as calling for a secondary boycott.

Hearing Examiner Thomas P. Leonard had ruled on Jan. 30 that council had erred in its suspension of Martin and that he had not violated labor statutes when he sent the letter.

The borough decided in February to appeal this decision within the 20-day time period.

After an Oct. 15 meeting of the board, involving Chairman L. Dennis Martire and members James M. Darby and Robert H. Shoop Jr., the board upheld the decision by Leonard and exceptions filed by the borough were dismissed.

According to documents from the board, Shoop issued a dissenting opinion, stating he believed that he felt the letter was "coercive" toward IAFF members and believes that "Local 1813 engaged in a secondary boycott."

John Bielski, attorney with Philadelphia-based law firm Willig, Williams & Davidson, who represent Local 1813, said he feels it is "not surprising" that the board ruled this way.

"This is what we thought all along," said Bielski. "We always felt this way. Correspondence from a union member to another union member about abiding with a union constitution is absolutely permitted and to try and discipline someone for doing so violates the Act."

According to the final order, council is required to make Martin "whole for all wages and benefits he would have earned had he not been suspended." Bielski said council could continue the process by filing an appeal to the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court.

Chambersburg Borough Council President William McLaughlin first said Monday he had no comment to the decision, and said he could neither confirm nor deny.

That afternoon he sent a letter to Public Opinion about the issue.

"As council president I haven't been involved in the legal filings. The borough solicitor and his legal team along with special outside counsel have been defending the borough and have been given broad authority to defend the town's interests from these attacks.

"Not surprisingly, someone has been feeding inside information to the local newspaper. Often these facts, facts that are not secrets have been revealed to the newspaper before town council, borough staff or our attorneys have the same information. Apparently the Public Opinion gets briefed by the union before our attorneys can brief town council," McLaughlin wrote.

Borough Manager Jeffrey Stonehill said that the borough solicitor will be discussing labor relations during an executive session at Monday night's borough council meeting.

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