IAFF Local 2945 engaged in negotiations with the City of Fulton, MO. As required, the agreement negotiated by the Local and City negotiating team was submitted to the City Council for approval. During the Council meeting, City officials did not approve the agreement and the City Council voted to reject the agreement. Subsequently, the Local attempted to return to the bargaining table and suggested dates for future negotiation sessions. The City failed to respond to these requests and instead pushed forward with its efforts to unilaterally establish new policies that would take the place of the contract. Notably, the City threatened the employees that if they refused to sign off on these new policies, it would revert policies back to 2013 levels and rescind any increase in benefits that have been provided since that time.
The Missouri Constitution explicitly provides employees with the “right to organize and to bargain collectively through representative of their own choosing.” Mo. Const. art. I, § 29. The Missouri Supreme Court has found that the duty to bargain also imposes a duty to bargain in good faith. Unlike many states that have created public employee relations boards to handle labor issues with public employers, challenges to an employer’s failure to bargain in Missouri must be pursued through the state courts.
The Local made the City aware that it was ready and willing to engage in additional negotiations. The City ignored the Local’s efforts and instead sought to deal directly with the Local’s members by having them express their agreement to abide by the terms of the City’s new employee handbook — which contained changes to mandatory subjects of bargaining that were not previously submitted to the Local during negotiations. The City’s refusal to bargain, its efforts to implement unilateral changes to mandatory subjects of bargaining, as well as its efforts to avoid bargaining with the Local and instead reaching out to its members, constituted bad faith bargaining in violation of state law.
A Complaint was filed in Missouri state court regarding the City’s regressive bargaining, and its efforts to break IAFF Local 2945.
Ultimately, after the IAFF Local 2945 filed suit in state Court, a settlement was negotiated on very favorable terms to the Union. The parties were able to resolve the contract provisions that had been continual stumbling blocks during past negotiations, resulting in favorable terms for the Local and its members. Those areas included: favorable language regarding grieving discipline, demotions and terminations; more generous “step up” pay for Engineers acting as Captains; and for the first time, step up pay for fire fighters who step up and act as Engineers.
On May 28, 2019, the Fulton City Council unanimously approved the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Local. The Mayor signed the Collective Bargaining Agreement and Settlement Agreement on May 30, 2019 and the Local ratified the Contract.
This hard fought and long-lasting litigation ultimately resulted in an excellent contract for the Local, and will provide extra benefits to the members going forward.
David Ricksecker was lead counsel for the fire fighters and is a partner at McGillivary Steele Elkin.