Council Controversy: Union Disagreement Regarding Chief Goes Back Many Years

Fire union officials said this week they will be filing a new grievance with the state after the City went against their wishes to promote Chief Tony Carli before the conclusion of a long-standing labor dispute – a dispute they said had everything to do with the choice of the chief and the ability of every union member to get a fair shot at the post.

Virtually no one but those in the administration and those within the union knew of the unfair labor practice complaint that is outstanding at the Department of Labor now – a complaint whereby briefs have been filed and they are waiting on a judge to rule in the case. However, that case came front and center for the first time on Monday, to the surprise of many.

“This thing has been a sham from the go,” said Fire Union President Craig Hardy, who is also an officer with the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts (PFFM). “We don’t bring our dirty laundry to the City Council. We don’t get them involved with grievances at all. What you see is they snuck this in and got it on the agenda without us knowing…

“It’s really nothing personal,” he told the Independent. “We just wanted the City to delay the vote until they could educate themselves on this issue and wait for the new chief’s exam so some of the deputy chiefs have a shot at being chief. There has never been an Assessment Center for chief in Everett. This was the first time. We’re putting another grievance in today because what they did last night was a violation of our contract. We don’t want to just boot the chief. It’s not us against him.”

Hardy mentioned they have a current unfair labor practice complaint before the Department of Labor. Briefs were just filed in that this month, and a judge is due to rule on the case at some point. That case involves the union claiming that the City needed to collectively bargain for the use of an Assessment Center instead of a Chief’s Exam. They claim it is a change in working conditions, and the City disagrees.

“We asked the City to wait for that ruling and they ended up trying to make this appointment on the rush,” he said. “We didn’t find out about this until last Thursday. What City Solicitor Keith Slattery said on Monday at the Council didn’t add up to me…Our assumption is they pushed this because they know this Chief’s Exam is coming out and they don’t want to do that because they don’t want to call for that test.”

City officials indicated there was a Civil Service complaint filed by the union last year following the conclusion of the Assessment Center. It protested the use of the Assessment Center and alleged there was an unfair advantage for Chief Carli – as he was given advance notice and allegedly had an inside track on the process.

However, that complaint finding was not in the union’s favor, and Civil Service did not feel that there was enough to merit an investigation. With that resolved in June, City officials said they began to move to make Chief Carli permanent.

City Solicitor Colleen Mejia said the position is a non-union position appointed by the mayor, and it didn’t require union input.

“The City’s position is we absolutely do not need their input regarding the mayor’s appointment of a non-union department head,” she said. “The (Department of Labor) complaint is about impact bargaining on their contract. It has no impact on the mayor’s ability to hire a non-union department head…We have a management right to do it.”

She added the chief’s position is not within the union, and therefore is not under the union contract or protected by the union contract. That, she said, would make the threat of a new grievance moot.

City officials – unlike union officials – said they know of no Chief’s test that is coming up. In fact, Mejia said the trend now is for non-union public safety officials to be chosen by an Assessment Center rather than a written test.

“Civil Service had not called for a Civil Service exam in years and Chief Butler had been on the job for 16 years,” said Mejia. “Chief Butler retired, we needed a chief and there wasn’t an exam on the horizon. So, we used the Assessment Center…Civil Service isn’t interested in giving Chief’s exams anymore. They haven’t given one. That’s the information we have.”

Hardy says different, and said the state union has been pushing for the test and that one is pending for 2020. He said study materials for that test are coming out in a couple of weeks. Nothing official, though, has been posted on the state’s Civil Service Website in doing a quick search of announced tests.

The bottom line in the situation is the process has been disputed by the union since 2016 when Chief Carli was first picked as a provisional chief. Hardy and Union Secretary/Treasurer Sean Hogan said past practice has always been to choose the most senior deputy chief to be the provisional. In this case, Carli was picked by the mayor and he was the deputy chief with the least seniority – jumping over several others.

Union officials said that gave him an unfair advantage in that, once chief, he knew there would be an Assessment Center. While Union officials claim Chief Carli was the point of contact in setting up the perameters of the Center, City officials said that was patently false. They said the point of contact in setting up the Center was the former Human Resources director, not Carli.

However, prior to the announcement of the Center to everyone, Carli did receive e-mails asking for information about Assessment Centers.

“Chief Carli was not the point of contact; it was Human Resources,” said Mejia. “That would have been a conflict. The Civil Service decision said there was no conflict…They all got a fair shot, they all got the same notice and they all went through the same assessment…(Chief Carli) was sent e-mails for information from the former Human Resources director, but he wasn’t involved.”

Hogan said that is the crux of much of the problem on this issue – that the chief had an idea this was going to be used while others did not.

“There were 42 days for people besides Tony Carli to prepare,” he said. “Tony Carli knew it was happening for some time. Typically you would have eight months to two years to prepare…It was a clear, unfair advantage.”

That was something that Civil Service disagreed with, but union officials believe there is merit to it, and said they were “shocked” at last summer’s ruling.

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