City Must Bargain Placement Of Surveillance Devices In Non-Public Areas Of Fire Department

Written on 10/08/2022
Will Aitchison

The City of Sharonville, Ohio and Local 4498 of the IAFF are parties to a collective bargaining agreement cov­ering members of the Sharonville Fire Department. On December 30, 2020, Local 4498 filed an unfair labor practice charge alleging the City violated Ohio’s collective bargaining law by failing to maintain the status quo.

The issue arose after the City installed video/audio surveillance cameras in the following areas of the fire station: the day room; the kitchen; the Lieutenant’s office; the break room; the gear room; the report room; the training room; the inspector’s office; the mezzanine; the reception area; and the main entrance. Many of the areas in which cameras had been placed are secured by locked doors. The camera in the day room was able to pick up audio from the adjoining bunk room if the door was open.

When Local 4498 demanded to bar­gain over the installation of the cameras, the City refused to negotiate. The unfair labor practice complaint resulted.

Ohio’s State Employment Relations Board (SERB) found that the City’s installation of the cameras breached its obligation to bargain in good faith. SERB began with the proposition that “the Ohio Revised Code requires public employers to bargain with an exclusive representative on all matters relating to wages, hours, or terms and other con­ditions of employment. Thus, if a given subject involved the exercise of inherent managerial discretion and also materially affects any of these factors, a balanc­ing test must be applied to determine whether the subject is a mandatory or permissive subject of bargaining. Those management decisions which are found, on balance, to be mandatory subjects must be bargained before implementa­tion, upon notice by the employer and a timely request by the employee organiza­tion, except where emergency situations render prior bargaining impossible.

“The core mission of a fire depart­ment is to provide fire protection and emergency services to the population it serves. Thus, the video/audio recording of fire personnel during an emergency operation or in the lobby of the fire sta­tions where fire personnel interact with the public may well be considered essen­tial to its mission and obligations to the general public, such that implementation of the cameras is not a mandatory subject of negotiation, although the impact of their use may still be a negotiable subject.

“The same cannot be said for sur­veilling the employees in their break rooms and offices. However, there was no evidence presented at the hearing that the fire stations had been subject to unauthorized individuals entering re­stricted areas or other issues necessitating the installation of the cameras. While the City offered testimony that the fire stations ‘could’ have an ‘open house’ where the public would be invited to tour the stations, none of the witnesses could remember the last time that such an event happened.

“Moreover, if such a limited-time event did occur it does not appear reasonable that the City could not take precautions other than installing permanent video/audio surveillance cameras throughout the fire stations. Accordingly, the evidence does not show that the installation of the video/audio surveillance cameras is necessary to achieve the City’s essential mission and its obligations to the general public.”

City of Sharonville, 39 OPER ¶ 116 (Ohio SERB 2021).

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