President of Holyoke Fire Fighters Association Seeking Arbitration for Allegedly Unfair Discipline
Thursday, February, 28, 2013
In Holyoke, Massachusetts, Timothy J. Leary, the president of Holyoke Fire Fighters Association, has been disciplined for racially offensive comments he made in a video. However, Leary is protesting the disciplinary action imposed on him by Fire Chief John A Pond, and has requested arbitration to resolve the matter. The Firefighter’s Union has specifically requested that the city of Holyoke bring in a neutral, third-party arbitrator from the American Arbitration Association to resolve the dispute.
According to Pond, the matter was investigated thoroughly, prompting him to place a letter of reprimand in Leary’s personnel file. Leary was also ordered to go through sensitivity training to avert future problems. Pond stated that Leary made comments that were racially insensitive in nature on the video; however, the Fire Chief refused to elaborate on what comments were made and why they were deemed racially insensitive.
However, according to Anthony Soto, the target of the slur, the video shows that Leary’s leadership and representation of the department’s Hispanic firefighters should be questioned. Out of 114 total firefighters in the department, approximately 16 percent are Hispanic. As a former member of the Fire Commission, Soto has come into conflict with the Holyoke Fire Department multiple times since the beginning of his appointment City Councilor January 2012. According to Soto’s former complaints, the department is too top-heavy. As a result, Soto has made attempts to cut the budget for deputy chiefs from $464,000 to $232,165, in addition to $77,000 (representing the entire budget for this position) for the supervisor of fire alarms.
After filing a grievance with the local Fire Commission and being denied that grievance, Leary stated that arbitration was the next step. His lawyer, Terence E. Coles, stated that the disciplinary action taken against Leary was unwarranted because the comment was made in private conversation while off-duty. "If you go down that road, disciplining for private conversations, what's next, disciplining them for private conversations with their wives at dinner?" Coles asked.
The other problem with the disciplinary action stemmed from the fact that Leary had not consented to being videotaped when the conversation occurred. Therefore, according to Coles—who practices with the Boston firm, Pyle Rome—the video cannot be legally used against him.
The video was recorded at Hampshire Towing and was of a conversation that occurred between William Johnson, owner of Hampshire Towing, and Leary. "As far as the video, my property is posted. When you walk into the entrance, it specifically says this property is audio and video taped, as a matter of normal business," Johnson said.