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Examiner rules Chambersburg should not have suspended fire department captain

February 04, 2013|By JENNIFER FITCH | waynesboro@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — A Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board hearing examiner decided recently that the Borough of Chambersburg wrongfully suspended a union official who told salaried firefighters to stop volunteering in the municipality.

The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board hearing examiner recently released two proposed decisions and orders. The borough has 20 days to file exceptions as a form of appeal; if it does not, the hearing examiner’s proposals become the final order of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board.

At issue is an Oct. 16, 2011, letter sent from International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Local 1813 President Patrick Martin to approximately 200 members of the union. The letter asked those individuals to refrain from volunteering in the borough because the municipality was considering layoffs within its salaried staff.

The Chambersburg Borough Council suspended Martin, a shift captain in the Chambersburg Fire Department, for 30 days and said he engaged in conduct “unbecoming of an officer.”

Hearing Examiner Thomas P. Leonard said Jan. 30 the council should rescind Martin’s suspension and reimburse him for wages and benefits from that period. Leonard also dismissed a complaint from the municipality saying IAFF 1813 leaders incited a secondary boycott that put public safety at risk.

On Monday, Borough Manager Jeffrey Stonehill said the municipality’s attorneys were reviewing Leonard’s proposed decisions and orders. He said he was not prepared to say whether they would file any exceptions.

John Bielski, attorney for IAFF 1813, said his clients were happy with Leonard’s findings.

“The hearing examiner’s decisions confirm what the leadership of the union had told the borough from the beginning,” Bielski said.

Union leaders were notified during a round of contract negotiations that the municipality would “decrease its firefighting capabilities or transfer much of the primary responsibility for firefighting and suppression to other potential fire service providers” because of budgetary constraints, according to court documents. A $1.6 million federal grant later awarded to Chambersburg preserved the eight firefighting jobs identified for possible layoffs.

Former Franklin County (Pa.) Court of Common Pleas Judge Richard J. Walsh decreed May 8, 2012, that IAFF 1813, Martin and Vice President Scott McNew should “cease and desist from encouraging, sanctioning and supporting a secondary boycott of volunteer fire services in the Chambersburg Fire Department.”

Instead, Leonard found that their actions did not constitute a secondary boycott, in part because those primarily affected are associated with the Franklin Fire Department, which Leonard said is not an employer and does not meet legal definitions of a secondary boycott.

Martin remains in the same roles as he was when this process started, Bielski said.

McNew is awaiting a hearing about threatened termination related to internal union charges he filed and later rescinded, he said.

“I hope the parties can put this behind us ... and continue to provide excellent firefighting services to the residents of the Borough of Chambersburg,” Bielski said.

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