Swampscott firefighters union files grievance
SWAMPSCOTT - The International Association of Firefighters Local 1459 has filed a grievance against the town.
Union President Jim Snow said the union is alleging Town Administrator Andrew Maylor and former Acting Chief Michael Champion implemented changes that would impact all union members without bargaining with the union.
According to Snow, the town is requiring a physical fitness exam by an outside physician for firefighters who have been out on leave, when in the past all that was required was a note from a personal physician.
"The town arbitrarily changed the policy in the contract without negotiating the changes," Snow said. "We understand the town has to protect its interest and ensure firefighters are fit for duty. But I am obligated to protect interests of my members. If the contract said we had to this it wouldn't be an issue."
Snow said the current contract stipulates a firefighter out on extended sick leave is able to return to work with a note from their physician. Snow said in the spring of 2010, the town started requiring firefighters to pass an extensive physical agility test before returning to duty.
Snow said two firefighters have already been required to take the exam at Quadrant Health Strategies, which is a facility selected by the town, before returning to work, but he declined to comment on individual firefighters or results.
"In the past a firefighter was able to return to duty with a note from the physician," Snow said. "No one has been able to answer our questions about this policy. We don't know what happens if someone doesn't pass or if someone gets hurts while taking the agility exam. There are a lot of unanswered questions."
Maylor said about the test, "The requirements of the physical exam are consistent with performing the functions required by a firefighter."
Firefighter William Hyde Jr., who did not file the grievance, took the exam before he was able to return to work following knee surgery.
"It was kind of like a stress test," he said. "They would measure your heart rate and blood pressure before and after activity. I had to climb a four-foot ladder 20 times with a SCOTT Pack, go up and down stairs with a SCOTT Pack on, push a sled around, use a weight machine and stuff."
Snow said the union filed a grievance in April, which was denied by Champion on April 15.
"We went to the second step in the process," Snow said. "That was to file a grievance against the town."
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, Maylor provided a copy of Article XXII, Section 2, Page 3 of the firefighters contract which reads: "An employee who has been out on sick leave for forty-five (45) calendar days, whether on regular sick leave or paid Family and Medical Leave may, at the discretion of the town, be subject to examinations by a town appointed physician, at town expense to render an opinion as to whether the employee can return to his/her position. Under this provision, the town shall not appoint a physician who is employed on a regular basis by the town."
Maylor said the language "at the discretion of the Town" has been in the contract for more than a decade and it applies only to non-work related injuries and illnesses. He explained work-related injuries are covered under a different section of the contract.
"There will be times when parties disagree on the interpretation of a contract," Maylor said. "We have a good rapport with the fire (union) executive board and I expect that to continue."
Maylor said the language was included in the contract to protect the firefighters and the town.
"It has been applied this way for the eight years I've been here," Maylor said. "We need to make sure the firefighter is able to perform the full functions of his or her job in order to protect the residents of Swampscott."
Marc J. Miller of Bernstein & Miller is representing the town in the matter. A recent invoice submitted by Miller reflects approximately $1,500 in charges incurred by the town in November alone relative to the firefighters grievance.