Several cases were consolidated to determine whether the issue of minimum staffing of fire fighters was a mandatory subject of bargaining. Unfair labor practice claims were brought by the parties. Section 15 of the Public Employee Relations Act (PERA) provides that a public employer must collectively bargain on mandatory subjects of bargaining. Act 312 deals with particular problems of labor disputes with police and fire personnel. The Michigan Employment Relations Commission (MERC) and an Act 312 arbitration panel had issued contrary rulings on whether minimum staffing was a mandatory subject of bargaining. The union argued (and the Act 312 panel concurred) that the city’s proposed reduction in per-shift manning would adversely affect fire fighter safety and that the Act 312 panel could determine and distinguish mandatory and permissive subjects of bargaining.
The Court of Appeals followed well-settled law and found that MERC has authority to implement PERA and has exclusive jurisdiction over unfair labor practice charges. The court vacated the decision of the arbitration panel. The court also found that the provision in question governed the number of fire fighters on duty per shift, not the number actually assembled at a fire scene and therefore was not a mandatory subject of bargaining.
Why did the LDF get involved?
Departure from well-settled law for bargaining units subject to Act 312 arbitration would create uncertainty and confusion for hundreds of municipal contracts for fire and police protection throughout the state.
What action did the LDF take?
Initially, the Michigan Supreme Court denied the union leave to appeal in June 1998. The union then filed a motion for reconsideration which the Court granted in December 1998. The city also filed a motion for reconsideration, requesting that the Court reinstate its initial order denying the case on the merits. The union then filed a motion to dismiss stating that the issue was moot since the parties had settled their differences. At this juncture of the case, the LDF was requested to file an amicus brief explaining that the union’s appeal lacked merit.
What was the outcome?
Prior to submission of the amicus brief by the LDF, the Michigan Supreme Court vacated its December 1998 order on the basis that the Court did not believe that the issues presented should be reviewed. Consequently, the favorable decision of the Court of Appeals remained in place.