Judge Rules in Favor of Firefighters
A judge denied the city's request to halt an arbitration agreement that awards millions in back pay to firefighters.
On Friday, Middlesex Superior Court Judge Thomas Murtagh denied a motion made by the city of Somerville that sought to halt an arbitration agreement that awards millions of dollars in back pay to Somerville's firefighters.
The state's Joint Labor-Management Committee, which oversees contract negations between municipalities and local police and firefighters (who can't go on strike because they're public safety workers), made the arbitration ruling in December. It awards at least $4.3 million in pay to Somerville's firefighters.
The city has argued the financial impact could be even greater than $4.3 million, something Local 76, the city's firefighters union, disputes.
In its motion before the court, the city argued the Joint Labor-Management Committee didn't have jurisdiction to make the award and didn't fully consider the city's fiscal situation.
In denying the motion, Murtagh said the city should have raised jurisdiction concerns back in June, 2010, when the arbitration process began. He also said that "multiple individuals testified on behalf of Somerville regarding the City's financial condition."
The city also complained the mayor is required to "express support for an appropriation of tax dollars to fund the [Arbitration Award] even if he does not actually support the award." It argued such a requirement is an unconstitutional infringement on the mayor's free speech.
Murtagh said municipal officers derive their powers from the state and therefore cannot challenge the constitutionality of a state statute. "The Mayor cannot lobby against the funding of the award and cannot orchestrate or encourage department heads or others to lobby against such funding," the judge wrote in his decision.
The matter stems back to 2007, when the firefighters' previous contract ended. The city and Local 76 spent nearly three years trying to hammer out a new agreement, to no avail. In 2010, the Joint Labor-Management Committee took up the matter, and last month it issued a decision awarding back pay to firefighters from 2007 onward.
The Boston Globe has reported the award could cause Somerville to make 31 layoffs, though Somerville Patch counts 30 proposed layoffs.