Standing Tall in Chambersburg: Fire Fighter Back to Work

April 30 • 2015

Greater Chambersburg, PA Local 1813 member Scott McNew is back on the job after the borough, its fire fighters and Local 1813 resolved a three-year legal dispute over unfair labor practice charges.

The agreement allows McNew to return to the Chambersburg Fire Department as a fire fighter. He was fired by the Chambersburg Borough Council in 2012 after he and Local 1813 President Patrick Martin drafted letters urging volunteer fire fighters not to respond to calls in the borough.

Though borough officials disciplined both McNew and Martin, the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) determined the officials had erred. The settlement reached on April 13 marks the conclusion of a three-year legal battle.

“We welcome Brother McNew back to the Chambersburg Fire Department. He is back where he belongs, protecting the residents of the borough. Our members stayed strong as they always do in the face of adversity,” says President of the Pennsylvania Professional Fire Fighters Association Art Martynuska.

Under the terms of the settlement, the Borough of Chambersburg agrees to convert McNew’s termination to a suspension without pay, though the suspension will be removed from his personnel file. McNew was reinstated with no loss in pay or seniority and with full benefits under the collective bargaining agreement.

Despite the lengthy unpaid suspension, McNew will receive full pension credits and will not be required to make pension contributions for that period of time. The borough agreed to contribute $18,000 to McNew’s pension to make up for missed contributions during the suspension period.

The agreement also removes any mention of discipline from Local 1813 President Martin’s personnel file. Also, the agreement stipulates that the borough will not make any staff reductions in the Chambersburg Fire Department until at least December 31, 2015.

In a related development, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on April 28 agreed to hear an appeal of a Commonwealth Court ruling that found Local 1813 attempted to wage an illegal boycott by sending the letters amid ongoing contract talks with the borough. The state’s highest court took on the case a result of challenges presented by Local 1813 and mounted by the PLRB against the Commonwealth decision made in December 2014.

The dispute between McNew, Martin and the borough began in 2011 when officials there began discussing possible layoffs within the fire department. Martin wrote letters to professional fire fighters who had been volunteering for shifts in Chambersburg to let them know that it was a violation of union policy to volunteer in a community where layoffs were under consideration.

McNew in 2012 wrote letters announcing Local 1813 was charging several fire fighters with violating union rules for continuing to volunteer in Chambersburg. Those charges were removed after the borough won a $1.5 Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant to help maintain staffing in the fire department.

But Chambersburg officials determined that the letters encouraging the volunteers not to respond to calls amounted to neglecting an official duty. The settlement in April serves to resolve these issues without further legal action or public discussion from both sides of the matter.

“I want to applaud the resolution of this matter between the Borough of Chambersburg and these two members who not only put their lives on the line to keep Chambersburg safe, but also stand proudly on the frontlines with their brothers and sisters in this union,” says General President Harold Schaitberger.