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Opinion No. 5154

April 21, 1977


Compulsory arbitration


Compulsory arbitration of labor disputes with members of fire department


Compulsory arbitration of labor disputes in municipal police and fire departments

Firefighters employed by Wayne County Road Commission are subject to the provisions of the statute authorizing compulsory arbitration of labor disputes in municipal police and fire departments.

Honorable Patrick H. McCollough

State Senator

The Capitol

Lansing, Michigan 48909

You have requested my opinion regarding whether the firefighters employed by the Wayne County Road Commission at the Wayne County Metropolitan Airport constitute a 'public fire department' within the meaning of 1969 PA 312; MCLA 423.231 et seq; MSA 17.455(31) et seq.

1969 PA 312, supra, was enacted to provide for compulsory arbitration of labor disputes in municipal police and fire departments, to define such public departments, to provide for the selection of members of arbitration panels, to prescribe the procedures and authority of such panels, and to provide for the enforcement and review of awards. In defining 'public fire department', 1969 PA 312, supra, Sec. 2, states that:

'Public . . . fire department means any department of a city, county, village, or township having employees engaged in . . . fire fighting or subject to the hazards thereof.'

The underlying public policy in providing for compulsory arbitration is significant and must be noted. 1969 PA 312, supra, Sec. 1, declares that:

'It is the public policy of this state that in public police and fire departments, where the right of employees to strike is by law prohibited, it is requisite to the high morale of such employees and the efficient operation of such departments to afford an alternate, expeditious, effective, and binding procedure for the resolution of disputes, and to that end the provisions of this act, providing for compulsory arbitration shall be liberally construed.' [Emphasis added]

The act seeks to avoid the effects of strikes or work stoppages of essential public services and to provide an alternative for the resolution of disputes when the right to strike has been prohibited by law. In Local 1518, American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, Michigan Council 55 v St. Clair County Board of Commissioners, 43 Mich App 342, 344; 204 NW2d 369, 370 (1972), the court said:

'By requiring policemen and firemen and their public employers to submit unresolved disputes to compulsory arbitration, the Legislature evidenced on overriding public policy favoring peaceful and expeditious resolution of labor disputes affecting policemen and firemen. . . .'

Pertaining to the absence of strike privileges by public employees, MCLA 423.202; MSA 17.455(2), states that:

'No person holding a position by appointment or employment in the government of the State of Michigan, or in the government of any one or more of the political subdivisions thereof, . . . or in the service of any authority, commission, or board, or in any other branch of the public service, hereinafter called a public employee, shall strike.' [Emphasis added]

Thus, the employees of the Wayne County Road Commission are deemed 'public employees' and, as such, are barred from striking. It has been held that the Wayne County Road Commission is a 'public employer' of its own employees within 1947 PA 336 as amended by 1965 PA 379; MCLA 423.201 et seq; MSA 17.455(1) et seq, prohibiting strikes by public employees and providing for the right to organize and to engage in collective bargaining with their public employers through representatives of their own choice. Wayne County Civil Service Commission v Board of Supervisors, 384 Mich 363, 376; 184 NW2d 201, 206 (1971).

Compulsory arbitration, as the act intended, may serve as a compromise for the loss of the right to strike and as an alternate, expeditious, and binding procedure for the resolution of disputes involving the essential services which a fire department provides to the public. Rather than engaging in an illegal strike, either party may initiate compulsory arbitration when the parties are unable to resolve a dispute within thirty days of its submission to mediation and fact finding. 1969 PA 312, Sec. MCLA 423.233; MSA 17.455(33).

It seems clear that the employees of the Wayne County Road Commission are 'fire fighters' as defined by MCLA 29.362; MSA 4.560(2), which states:

"Fire fighter or 'fireman' . . . means a member of a fire department or other organization of a city, county, township or village . . . who is responsible for the extinguishment of fires, prevention and detection, and the enforcement of the general fire laws of the State. . . .'

These two statutes are in pari materia and must be read together. Michigan Good Roads Federation v Alger, 333 Mich 352; 53 NW2d 481 (1952); Foster v Board of Education of School District No. 10, 326 Mich 272; 40 NW2d 310 (1950).

I note that not only are the approximately thirty-three employees responsible for fighting structural and aircraft fires, rescues on the grounds of the airport, and preventative safety inspections, but also they respond to requests for mutual aid, emergency medical services, and transportation in surrounding areas. This includes fighting fires occurring on I-94 and other roads nearby. Further, I note that the airport firefighters take the normal education and training courses taken by firefighters across the state.

Although Ypsilanti Police Officers Association v Eastern Michigan University, 62 Mich App 87; 233 NW2d 497 (1975), held that campus police at Eastern Michigan University were not entitled to initiate compulsory arbitration proceedings under 1969 PA 312, it must be noted that Eastern Michigan University is not a 'department' of a city, county, village or township.

It is therefore my opinion that, inasmuch as the firefighters employed by the Wayne County Road Commission provides essential services to the area and have duties, responsibilities, and training similar to members of commonly-recognized public fire departments, they are within the definition scope of 1969 PA 312, supra, Sec. 2, which defines 'public fire department'.

Frank J. Kelley

Attorney General