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State Board Rules Against Fired Unionized Port Chester Firefighters

Port Chester firefighters battling a fire in the village in March. On May 2, a 5-1 village board voted to eliminate the paid department, cutting eight career firefighter jobs. A state board has denied the firefighters request for injunctive relief.
Port Chester firefighters battling a fire in the village in March. On May 2, a 5-1 village board voted to eliminate the paid department, cutting eight career firefighter jobs. A state board has denied the firefighters request for injunctive relief. Photo Credit: Jon Craig

PORT CHESTER, N.Y. -- The state Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) has denied the Port Chester paid firefighter union’s application for injunctive relief to rehire the Village’s paid firefighters.

They were fired by a vote of the village Board of Trustees, in a vote reported here.

The firefighters’ union alleged that the Village of Port Chester had engaged in “improper practices” and caused “irreparable harm” that the union claimed would result from the decision to eliminate eight paid firefighter positions from Port Chester’s 2016-2017 budget.

David P. Quinn, of PERB’s Office of Counsel, said in the ruling that “the materials before me do not clearly identify what aspect of the Village's conduct amounted to a refusal to continue the terms in the parties' expired agreement.”

Quinn added, “I find that the necessary degree of harm is not present.”

Quinn also noted, "There is no express Taylor Law requirement that an employer maintain a force of professional fire fighters.”

According to a press statement from Port Chester Dennis Pilla, "This PERB ruling affirms that the Village was within its legal authority to eliminate the paid firefighter positions in the budget. The Village Board of Trustees made this difficult decision due to tight budgetary constraints and because the Village has a large number of well-trained, dedicated volunteer firefighters from seven volunteer fire companies who are the principle firefighters for the Village. These volunteer firefighters operate under the direction of three volunteer chiefs."

According to PERB’s counsel Quinn, PERB has exclusive jurisdiction to prevent improper practices as defined in the Taylor Law. Upon finding an improper practice, PERB is authorized to issue remedial orders directing offending parties to cease and desist from any improper practice, and to take such affirmative action including but not limited to the reinstatement of employees with or without back pay.

Port Chester had previously employed paid firefighters as supplemental employees to assist their volunteer firefighters. In that supplemental capacity, the Village’s paid firefighters provided no leadership or technical support to the volunteer chiefs or firefighters, Pilla said.

The Village of Rye Brook, meanwhile, sued Port Chester for a breach of contract, for failing to provide a paid firefighter at its village fire station.

Since the May 2 vote, the Port Chester Volunteer Fire Department responded to 102 fire alarms in May, Pilla said. with an average of around 12 volunteers responding to priority fire calls, continuing the volunteer fire department’s nearly 200-year commitment to protecting life and property.

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