Labor Relations Specialist James Steffes fought hard for Macomb Township Fire Fighter Allen Coleman and was able to have an unwarranted disciplinary action set aside in part. At issue was whether or not Fire Fighter Coleman violated work rules by leaving his standby duty station early after notifying the senior officer of the need to do so. Upon his departure, the fire station was still manned by one fire fighter who was able to tone out other stations, as necessary, should the need have arisen.
Arbitrator Joseph Girolamo agreed that definitions used in the Rules and Regulations governing this situation were ambiguous, and the suspension from duty imposed prior to the completion of a full investigation was indeed improper. This is not a situation where Fire Fighter Coleman left his work assignment early without notifying anyone. In this case, Fire Fighter Coleman could have called another Fire Fighter upon his learning of the need to leave early and not report for duty. Instead, he reported for duty as required; and made notification as he understood it to be required.
Arbitrator Girolamo used his authority and obligation to reduce a penalty when it is deemed punitive rather than corrective.
The 14 day suspension from duty was set aside with the option given for the Employer to issue a Written Reprimand instead, and the Employer was ordered to make Fire Fighter Coleman whole for his lost wages and benefits. A 90 day prohibition of working Standby Duty was reduced to 45 days. The date of occurrence was in January 2010, and the Arbitrator’s decision was issued in July 2010.
The Michigan Association of Fire Fighters saw this case as one where the disciplinary action was a direct result of the Employer’s own ambiguities regarding its operations, and saw to it that their members’ rights were upheld.