Santa Maria Firefighters Secure Significant Win for Themselves, CPF and the IAFF

The Santa Maria Firefighters Association, represented by Stuart D. Adams, Esq. of Adams, Ferrone & Ferrone, has won a major victory for itself, California Professional Firefighters (CPF) and the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) before the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB) in an Unfair Labor Practice charge. The PERB Board findings were as follows:

For the First time in the history of the Santa Maria Fire Department, the Fire Chief decided to open the testing for the Classification of Fire Captain to outside applicants. The Firefighters Association objected demanding that the Chief meet and confer on the decision and the effects of the unilateral change in past practice. They sought the help of the CPF. CPF sent out two emails to all of its membership urging members to not apply for the Captain’s test.

The first email was, in the opinion of union President Anthony Morales, capable of being misconstrued to mean internal candidates were being excluded. In an abundance of caution, he requested that CPF clarify the language which they did and sent a clarifying second email.

Sixteen people applied for the test from the outside. Four internal candidates applied. On the day of the test, no external candidates showed up. The four internal candidates passed the test and 3 were promoted. By the time the case was heard by a PERB appointed Administrative Law Judge, the three candidates had passed probation and were permanent employees.

The day after the no-shows, the Fire Chief gave notices to the Executive Board that they were all under investigation to determine whether they were involved in the CPF email. Attorney Adams sent a letter objecting to the investigation on the grounds that it was retaliation for engaging in protected union activity. The Department responded by moving forward with the investigation. Most members of the Executive Board were interviewed.

As a result, Attorney Adams filed an unfair Labor Practice Charge with PERB alleging: (1) Failure to meet and confer on the decision to change a past practice (opening the test); (2) Failure to meet and confer of the effects of opening the test; and, (3) Retaliation for engaging in protected union activity (the CPF Do Not Apply email). PERB issued a charge and the matter went to hearing before an ALJ.

Being a smaller Association, the union needed financial assistance and asked IAFF for help. The IAFF through Frank Lima, the 10th District DVP responded by funding the legal action through their Guardian Fund. Without that assistance, the Santa Maria Firefighters would not have been able to move forward with PERB.

The ALJ ruled: (1) The decision to open the test was not within the scope representation and therefore there was no violation of law; (2) The City failed to meet and confer on the effects of opening the test and therefore there was a violation of law; and, (3) The City in fact retaliated against the union Executive Board for engaging in protected free speech and lawful engagement in protected union activities. This was a significant win for the union even though they lost on the first issue.

The City filed an appeal of the ALJ decision with the PERB Board. The PERB Board issued an 86-page opinion in which they completely repudiated the City’s arguments. Significantly, the Board overturned the ALJ’s finding that there was no violation of law by the City’s failure to meet and confer on the decision to open the test. The Board also upheld the ALJ’s other two findings in favor of the Firefighters. PERB therefore issued a complete victory to the Santa Maria Firefighters which expressly stated that the CPF email was a protected activity.

 

Stuart D. Adams, Esq. Adams, Ferrone & Ferrone