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Westchester Firefighters Union Dispute 'Very Much Alive,' Says Labor Expert

Lee Adler, a Cornell University ILR School faculty member who specializes in labor and unions, said a state complaint by fired Port Chester fire fighters "Is very much alive." A conference before a Public Employees Relations Board judge is on Monday.
Lee Adler, a Cornell University ILR School faculty member who specializes in labor and unions, said a state complaint by fired Port Chester fire fighters "Is very much alive." A conference before a Public Employees Relations Board judge is on Monday. Photo Credit: Provided/Cornell University ILR School
Protesters carried signs, blasted air horns and wore red shirts last month. About 200 people attended the pro-union rally outside Port Chester Village Hall and then marched in support of eight local firefighters who were fired on May 1.
Protesters carried signs, blasted air horns and wore red shirts last month. About 200 people attended the pro-union rally outside Port Chester Village Hall and then marched in support of eight local firefighters who were fired on May 1. Video Credit: Jon Craig
William Romaka, first district vice president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said there is state legal precedent for reinstating union firefighters with back pay.
William Romaka, first district vice president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said there is state legal precedent for reinstating union firefighters with back pay. Video Credit: Jon Craig
William Romaka, first district vice president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said the merits of the Port Chester Local 1971 firefighters union case will be argued before a state administration law judge next week.
William Romaka, first district vice president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said the merits of the Port Chester Local 1971 firefighters union case will be argued before a state administration law judge next week. Photo Credit: Jon Craig

This story has been updated

PORT CHESTER, N.Y. -- A dispute over last month's abrupt firing of eight career firefighters by the Village of Port Chester is "very much alive,'' a Cornell University labor law expert said on Thursday.

A private pre-hearing conference set by the New York State Public Employees Relations Board on the merits of the case is set for Monday June 27 before Melanie Wlasuk, an Administrative Law Judge for PERB.

Sometimes differences are resolved at such conferences, according to a PERB spokesman. Otherwise, a date for a fact-finding hearing could be set, according to the spokesman.

Lee Adler , who specializes in contracts and labor issues involving public unions, is a faculty member at Cornell's ILR School. "The Port Chester fire fighters case is very much alive," Adler told Daily Voice on Thursday.

“I am familiar with other public sector unions’ efforts to engage PERB to seek injunctive relief in various cases, and it is quite difficult to meet the standards of this type of requested relief," Adler said of a recent opinion cast against the International Association of Fire Fighters.

However, PERB’s normal dispute resolution process is quite open to the issues raised by the Port Chester unionized Fire Fighters, according to Adler. Cornell's labor and union expert said that the PERB decision earlier this month to not get involved in the injunction request "is NOT a decision on the merits of the Port Chester fire fighters’ allegations that their employer violated the Taylor Law by its actions so far."

"In fact, the first hearing on the merits of the case will convene next week before a PERB judge," Adler said, "and she will be the part of the PERB agency who will make the decision in this case on the merits."

The May 1 firing by the Village Board of Trustees, which eliminated the paid fire department from its annual budget with little public input or discussion, prompted a rally and protest by about 200 firefighters, Local 1971 union members and the public, including at subsequent village board meetings.

By a 5-1 vote, as reported earlier here by Daily Voice, Port Chester's village board eliminated the paid fire department and 11 jobs. Three of the career jobs were vacant, leaving eight more firefighters on unpaid administrative leave.

William Romaka, first district vice president of the International Association of Fire Fighters, declined comment on Friday referring questions to a lawyer handling the case. But he did say there is precedent for saving union firefighters' jobs with back pay, citing an Upstate New York grievance.

Cornell's Adler is a labor, criminal law and civil rights practitioner. He teaches critical labor, employment law, and union leadership issues in academic, extension, and community settings. He has considerable strategic, policy-making, trial, and appellate experience in representing and educating unions and their members.

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