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AFL-CIO v. Town of North Providence

Superior Court of Rhode Island

September 26, 2014

LOCAL 2334 OF THE INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FIREFIGHTERS, AFL-CIO
v.
THE TOWN OF NORTH PROVIDENCE, through the Director of Public Safety, Charles Lombardi, and THE NORTH PROVIDENCE FIRE DEPARTMENT, through the Chief of the Department, Leonard Albanese

Providence County Superior Court.

For Plaintiff: Edward C. Roy, Esq.

For Defendant: Vincent F. Ragosta, Jr., Esq.

DECISION

MATOS, J.

Before this Court is Plaintiff, Local 2334 of the International Association of Firefighters, AFL-CIO's, (Plaintiff or Local 2334) request for declaratory and injunctive relief and Defendants, The Town of North Providence and The North Providence Fire Department's, (collectively, Defendants) counterclaim for declaratory relief. Underlying each action is the legality of an "Annual Medical Evaluations Program" promulgated by the North Providence Fire Department on November 1, 2012. Jurisdiction is pursuant to G.L. 1956 §§ 9-30-1, et seq.

I Facts and Travel

Local 2334 is an unincorporated association organized to represent the collective bargaining interests of firefighters of the Town of North Providence. Agreed Statement of Facts ¶ 2. Defendant, The Town of North Providence (Town), is a municipal corporation and a "person" as established by the Uniform Declaratory Judgments Act, § 9-30-13. Id. at ¶ 1. The North Providence Fire Department (Fire Department) is one of three divisions of the department of public safety pursuant to § 8-1-1 of the Charter of the Town of North Providence. Id. at ¶ 3.

Pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 28-9.1-4, the Town and Local 2334 have engaged in collective bargaining. The Town and Local 2334 are currently governed by a collective bargaining agreement entitled, "Town of North Providence and Local 2334 – International Association of Firefighters, AFL-CIO, Collective Bargaining Agreement, July 1 2012 – June 30, 2015." (the Collective Bargaining Agreement). Id. at ¶ 15.

In 1988, the General Assembly enacted title 23, chapter 28.4 of the Rhode Island General Laws, entitled "Safety and Health Programs for Fire Departments" ("Safety and Health Act"). Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 5; Defs.' Answer ¶ 5. The Act adopts, in significant part, the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) Standard in Fire Department Occupational Safety Health Program which is referred to as the "NFPA 1500."

Section 23-28.4-2 states the "Scope and purpose" of the chapter: "This chapter establishes minimum requirements for a safety and health program for a fire department or any type of organization providing similar services." Section 23-28.4-4 continues that "[i]t is the intent of this chapter to ensure that NFPA 1500: Standard on Fire Department Occupational Safety and Health Program is adopted and adhered to by all applicable fire departments in the state."

Discussing the implementation of safety and health standards, § 23-28.4-5 requires that

"Each applicable fire department in the state shall formulate a written plan to implement the requirements of NFPA 1500 not more than one hundred twenty days (120) after July 10, 1990 which shall be updated annually and a copy shall be given to the director of labor and training to be kept on file, and a copy shall be given to the bargaining agent representing employees within the fire department." However, § 23-28.4-6 states that ". . . (b) The following NFPA 1500 chapters and sections shall not apply to this chapter: (1) Chapter 3, training and educational standards; (2) Chapter 8-4, fire department physicians; (3) Chapter 8-5, physical fitness programs."

Prior to being hired, Town firefighters are required to pass a physical performance test and medical evaluation. Agreed Statement of Facts ¶ 8. Specifically, Section 8-1.1 of the NFPA 1500 states: "Prior to becoming a member, individuals shall be examined and certified by a physician as being medically and physically fit." Agreed Statement of Facts, Ex. 3. In addition, Section 8-1.2 of the NFPA 1500 requires that:

"All members engaged in emergency operations shall be re-examined by the physician on at least an annual basis and before being reassigned to emergency duties after debilitating illnesses or injuries. Members who have not satisfied these requirements of the examination shall not be permitted to engage in emergency operations. When these examinations are conducted by a physician other than the NPFD's physician, the examination report ...

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