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SJC backs state board on rehires
Thursday, January 20, 2005
By KIM RING
[email protected]

BROOKFIELD - The state Supreme Judicial Court has upheld a decision by the state Labor Relations Commission citing the town for failing to rehire three police officers who had taken steps to start a union.

In a ruling released yesterday, the Supreme Judicial Court ordered the town to reinstate R. Peter Graupner, Jamie Griffin and Kenneth E. Hayes to their posts and to pay them "for all losses they suffered as a result of the town's unlawful actions."

The three men had filed a complaint with the state Labor Relations Commission after they were not reappointed in 1999 by then-Selectmen Floyd L. Moores, Michael P. Seery and Ronald J. Dackson.

The men charged the board's failure to reappoint them stemmed from their activities in trying to unionize police. The officers had been handing out authorization cards from the Massachusetts Coalition of Police.

According to documents from the Supreme Judicial Court, Dackson told Graupner it would be unwise to start a union just before his reappointment. Graupner had been an officer since 1993 and more recently served as a sergeant.

Police Chief Ross Ackerman failed to submit Griffin and Hayes' names for reappointment, while selectmen voted not to reappoint Graupner.

The case is similar to a complaint filed by former Brimfield police officers who were in the process of organizing a union when they were not reappointed in 2003.

The Brimfield case is before the state Labor Relations Commission for settlement.

SJC says Brookfield violated labor laws

Police officers should have been rehired

By James F. Russell CORRESPONDENT

BROOKFIELD- The town of Brookfield violated state labor laws when it failed to reappoint three police officers trying to unionize the department, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled yesterday.

The court upheld a 2002 ruling by the Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission ordering the town to reinstate former Officers R. Peter Graupner, James Griffin and Kenneth E. Hayes and pay them back wages with interest going back to 1999.

"I am glad they found in our favor and truly feel vindicated - we will see what transpires from here," Mr. Hayes said yesterday.

"I have faith in the legal system, which is why we did not give up," Mr. Graupner said.

Citing an ongoing civil case in federal court the three also filed against Brookfield, Mr. Graupner and Mr. Hayes declined further comment.

Mr. Griffin could not be reached.

After losing their jobs in 1999, the Brookfield Three, as they came to be known, filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission, in addition to filing the federal suit. Selectmen at the time were Chairman Floyd L. Moores, Michael P. Seery and Ronald J. Dackson.

In May 2002, the commission determined Brookfield retaliated against the officers. The commission ruled the town, by not reappointing the officers, who were attempting to unionize the police force, violated their rights.

The commission ordered Brookfield to reinstate the police officers and pay them back wages with interest. The town disagreed with the ruling and brought suit against the state agency.

The SJC, which heard the case in October 2004, said in yesterday's decision, written by Justice John M. Greaney: "We reject the town's arguments and affirm the commission's decision."

Recounting events leading up to the officers' non-reappointment, the court said Mr. Dackson perpetrated antiunion animus toward Mr. Graupner.

According to the court's finding, Mr. Dackson told Mr. Graupner on Oct. 25, 1999, that "It was not wise to start a union just before his reappointment, that unions were trouble, that Graupner was trouble, and that Graupner would not be around to enjoy a union."

The court notes that during the Oct. 26, 1999, selectmen's meeting, "then acting Police Chief (Victor) Boucher submitted a request that Graupner be reappointed as a sergeant. Dackson moved for 'safety reasons' to place Graupner on administrative leave until Graupner's term expired on Nov. 30, 1999. Moores and Dackson voted in favor of this action, and Moores directed Boucher to retrieve Graupner's badge, weapons and keys."

Chief Boucher resigned the next day. Selectmen appointed Ross B. Ackerman acting chief on Oct. 28, 1999.

Asked yesterday if he would have taken the same action toward Mr. Graupner in light of the SJC ruling, Mr. Dackson said, "definitely."

According to the decision, "In early November 1999, Ackerman submitted the names of several officers to the board recommending they be reappointed, but Ackerman did not submit the names of Griffin and Hayes. Consequently Griffin's employment ended Nov. 30, 1999, and Hayes' ended Dec. 31, 1999."

Court records state that "Griffin asked Ackerman whether there would be any problem with his or Hayes' reappointments. Ackerman responded that Griffin had nothing to worry about, but that he had doubts concerning whether Hayes would be reappointed. Ackerman stated there might be a problem with "where the men live," because an officer must live within 15 miles of Brookfield.

The court found Brookfield arbitrarily enforced the residency requirement on the two men because "there was evidence of two occasions where an officer moved outside the fifteen-mile limit during his appointment," Justice Greaney wrote. "Griffin and Hayes were never offered the opportunity to move."

Contacted yesterday, Chief Ackerman declined to comment on the court's decision. The chief acknowledged that current starting pay for a full-time police officer is $12.50 per hour, and $10.50 per hour for a part-time officer. He said part-time officers generally work 18 hours per week. In 1999, Mr. Graupner was a full-time officer; Mr. Hayes and Mr. Griffin were part-time officers.

The amount of money Brookfield spent on legal bills contesting the case and the back wages with interest owed is still to be determined.

Beverly A. Lund, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said the town paid $19,278.50 in legal expenses from May 2003 to June 2004.

"I have not received any information from town counsel," she said.

Kopelman & Paige lawyer Michele E. Randazzo, who represented Brookfield before the SJC, did not return a phone call.

Selectman Robert S. Phillips said the town "offered to hire them back and appropriated money at a town meeting to pay the back wages."

Unsure of the amount of back wages owed, he said the town appealed the Labor Relations Commission decision because it disagreed with it, simultaneously complying with the ruling.

Lawyer Leigh A. Panettiere of the Boston firm Sandulli Grace P.C. filed the original action with the commission while representing the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, who backed the Brookfield officers. MassCOP is the bargaining union the Brookfield police officers were interested in joining.

"It is vital that public employees know they have the right to organize and for cities and towns to know they cannot discriminate based on union activity," she said.

Michael Grunko, president of Service Employees International Union Local 509, which filed a friend of court brief in support of the officers, was satisfied with the SJC ruling, saying, "there has to be a consequence when an employer engages in egregious anti-union behavior."

"Some employers think they can bully people," Anthony M. Petrone, vice president of the 370-member Worcester Police Patrolmen's Union, Local 378, said after learning about the decision. "I am very excited by the ruling."
 

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YEEHAW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This kinda stuff is what I LOVE to hear!!!!! Go Brookfield, Brimfield is next!!!!
=D> :t:
 
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