RE: Warwick Crossing Guards – Contracts are Forever

The Board, therefore, finds that the Employer has engaged in unfair labor practices by refusing to bargain in good faith and by unilateral implementation of terms and conditions of employment, and by failing to participate in statutory dispute resolution procedures.

Thus has the RI State Labor Relations Board rendered its decision to reinstate the prior contract of the Warwick Crossing Guard union (Local 1033). “[T]he Employer [The City of Warwick} has engaged in unfair labor practices by refusing to bargain in good faith…” According to the “majority” of 3 on the Board (I looked at the rules and regs for the Board and could find nothing stating a tie goes to the union…), the City of Warwick didn’t bargain in good faith because they “entered into negotiations with a mind ‘hermetically sealed against even the thought of entering into an Agreement with the Union’.” They support this with the following:

[T]he City Council issued a resolution directing the City’s administration to “formally notify the Union representing the Crossing Guards that it [the City] is exercising its option not to renew the Collective Bargaining Agreement in order to explore the possibility of privatizing the Crossing Guards and the potential cost savings associated therewith…” (Union Exhibit 1-1) Despite this directive from the City Council, the Union and the Personnel Director did meet and confer and came up with a Tentative Agreement for submission to the City Council.

Apparently, while the City Council investigated other options, the City Administration (ie; Mayor Avedisian’s office) was supposed to do….nothing. But, according to the Labor board, he couldn’t “do nothing”, because that wouldn’t have been in good faith either! That’s apparent from their subsequent “logic”. Remember, they expressly pointed out that a contract between the City and the Crossing Guards had been in place for 30 years, uninterrupted. Thus, the presumption is that this is the irrevocable norm. Then, after explaining the “disconnect” between Mayor and City Council (which I posted previously), they go on:

The Municipal Employee Arbitration Act, like most public sector statutes, both in Rhode Island and across the nation, requires dispute resolution procedures prior to any declaration if impasse is possible. These procedures include mediation, conciliation, and arbitration. R.I.G.L. 28-9.4-10. These procedures are designed to ensure that the state’s public policy for public sector collective bargaining is effective. The dispute resolution process is designed to encourage and indeed strive for a negotiated settlement of labor disputes. This Board has previously had the occasion to review the necessity of exhaustion of the dispute resolution process within the context of unilateral changes made by an Employer to the terms and conditions of employment. In the case of public sector employees, however, this Board has previously ruled that “exhaustive” bargaining necessarily includes any and all statutory dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation, conciliation, and arbitration. ULP 4647, Warwick School Committee, (1992) In addition, the “unilateral departure from the terms of an expired contract, prior to all available statutory dispute resolution procedures violates the obligation to bargain under R.I.G.L. 29-7-13. This requirement to engage in all available dispute mechanism procedures still exists today, despite the seemingly ever-increasing public hostility to public-sector labor relations.

There can be no doubt that what the Board is saying is that, even when a contract expires, it doesn’t. Not until all avenues of renegotiation are followed, including arbitration, which, by the way, inevitably results in a brokered agreement, right? (When has arbitration “failed”)? Thus, an expired contract is just as valid as a current one. With this logic, given that the City Council stated they were going to privatize, had Mayor Avedisian and his office NOT pursued a “just in case” negotiation, the union could have still taken the City of Warwick to the Board, who would have found in the union’s favor because the City hadn’t begun negotiations in the first place. And how about that last part of the above excerpt? “This requirement to engage in all available dispute mechanism procedures still exists today, despite the seemingly ever-increasing public hostility to public-sector labor relations.” How brave is the Board of Labor Relations!
ADDENDUM: As the Warwick Beacon reported:

When neighboring Cranston chose to fire its crossing guards in 2005, the same union filed a complaint to the Labor Relations Board and won. That decision, however, was appealed to Superior Court, where the city was victorious. The State Supreme Court decided not to take up the issue, and Cranston won the day.
William Felkner, the president of the Ocean State Policy Research Institute, has criticized the Labor Relations Board for continually favoring the unions over management. Felkner said that over the last three years, management has a 7-0 record on all major decisions.

The 7-0 pro union record Felkner cites is supported by OSPRI’s research into the RILRB’s decisions, which they released earlier this year.
ADDENDUM 2: As to the mystery of why a 3-3 tie went to labor–and I’m just guessing–maybe RILRB Chair Walter Lanni made an “executive” decision and counted his vote twice? Lest we forget, as this ProJo op-ed reminds (concerning the RILRBs decision to allow home daycare providers to unionize…remember that one?), Mr. Lanni, a “representative of management” on the Board, “served on the executive board of his firefighters’ union from 1973 to 1996; even as chief, he was a member of that union. Moreover, he and Mr. [Frank] Montanaro [now former AFL-CIO President] served together as Cranston firefighters for 10 years and are close friends.”

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Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
14 years ago

This story reminds me of a portion of Atlas Shrugged, wherein a Judge Narragansett is faced with making a decision which he abhors, but the law requires. He makes the decision as required and then retires so that he will not again be placed in such a position.
It appears to me that the Labor Relations Board has made the decision which the law requires. They cannot be condemned for this, they are not empowered to change the laws under which they must operate.
Blame must fall on the legislature which creates the laws under which the board operates.
If the board “found a loophole”, it is still the legisalture which must take the heat. It is up to them to clarify the law or “close the loophole”.
Since the legislators are elected “by the people”, the blame ultimately fals on us. Rhode Islanders must like it, or else they would change it.
I think some blame must fall on the “fourth estate”, the “mainstream media” who fail to make this widely known.

14 years ago

How does a three – three tie vote affirm the unfair labor practice?
Can someone tell me any city council, school committee and state board that operates under these rules?
That’s what make the board and this decision a joke.

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