TIVERTON — Tiverton department heads are “managerial and supervisory” and can’t unionize, the Rhode Island State Labor Relations Board (RISLRB) said in a long-awaited written decision handed down Wednesday, Nov. 7.
On Sept. 6, 2011, seven town department heads had filed a petition with the board to organize a union bargaining unit, which the town opposed.
Tiverton Assistant Town Solicitor Michael Ursillo represented the town in the case and in an e-mail Friday announced the board’s decision to dismiss the department head’s petition. “The board ruled that all seven of them hold managerial positions and are therefore not eligible to unionize,” he said.
“This is one of the very few such decisions of the board which have denied municipal department heads the right to unionize.,” Mr. Ursillo said.
The department heads seeking unionization were the tax assessor, the wastewater collections superintendent, the building/zoning official, the town planner, the senior center director, the tax collector, and the director of public works. They had petitioned to be represented by Rhode Island Council 94, of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
The board held hearings on the petition on Feb. 14, and March 29, 2012. Testimony of each of the department heads and of town officials, including Town Administrator James Goncalo, along with documentary evidence, was provided to the board.
Although a preliminary vote of the board was taken on June 12, it took over six months for the opinion to be put in written form and signed off on by participating board members. The vote of the board was 4-2, with members Frank Montanaro and John Capobianco dissenting.
The board is normally comprised of seven members. A seventh vote was was not cast because the seventh position on the board is vacant, and has been for some time. That position, said John Burns, the organizer for Rhode Island Council 94, AFSCME, who represented the department heads in the deliberations, is one that would normally have been filled by a labor representative.
“We’re disappointed in the decision, obviously, ” Mr. Burns said. “Our attorneys are reviewing it.”
The losing parties have 30 days within which to file an appeal with Superior Court, a time limit that expires at the end of business on Friday, Dec. 7. Mr. Burns declined to say whether or not the department heads will appeal.
Of the board’s decision, Town Administrator James Goncalo said, “I was certainly pleased they found in our favor because we truly believe the department heads are managers and not subject to unionization.”
Mr. Goncalo said he didn’t think the decision will affect his relationship with the department heads.