Ruling: CSEA can sue city over department merger

Changes made after deadly Jay Street fire; court decision paves the way for a trial

Categories: News, Schenectady County

SCHENECTADY — A state appeals court ruled Thursday a local union can sue the city over its executive order merging the Office of the Building Inspector and Bureau of Code Enforcement following the deadly Jay Street fire in 2015. 

CSEA Local 1000 alleged that the 2017 order by Mayor Gary McCarthy was unlawful because it brought union members under the jurisdiction of Public Safety Commissioner Michael Eidens, who then used that authority to establish new disciplinary procedures for those employees. 

That move “impaired and diminished” the disciplinary rights and procedures set forth in their negotiated collective bargaining agreement, according to the union’s lawsuit. 

State Supreme Court Justice Barry Kramer dismissed the lawsuit last year, citing the union failed to state a claim.

But the Appellate Division of state Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Thursday the allegations could demonstrate “requisite harm” if proven. 

The city has 20 days to provide an answer to the ruling, which paves the way for a trial. 

“We’re going to review it and make a decision on how to proceed,” said city Corporation Counsel Carl Falotico.

The appeals court didn’t make a determination on whether the city’s decision to install a new disciplinary system was correct or incorrect, Falotico said, but rather if Kramer was correct in dismissing CSEA’s case without a trial. 

Following the fatal fire that killed four apartment residents across from City Hall, state and county reports faulted the city, determining the Codes Department routinely failed to act on code violations, including potentially fatal hazards reported by the Fire Department. 

The Codes Department failed to act on the complaints because the city lacked a system to log, track and ensure the issues had been addressed, according to a grand jury report.

A state comptroller report also said the city must improve how it inspects and tracks larger apartment buildings and rapped the city’s system of relying on apartment owners to voluntarily sign up for inspections upon change of tenant or change of building ownership. 

As a response, the city restructured the departments to improve coordination. The city says those efforts are on track despite Eidens’ decision to scale back his responsibilities earlier this year in order to focus solely on police discipline. 

The city is also continuing to roll out new software designed to streamline operations in the Codes Department and improve communication among city departments.

CSEA filed a lawsuit against the city in April 2018, expressing criticism of the new disciplinary procedures. 

The complaint said discipline of an employee only occurs for a “just cause” in its contract, while Eidens’ procedure does not include such a phrase.

The lawsuit also stated the commissioner’s discipline procedure has “no foundation in existing law and constitutes policy making,” which it said is the role of the City Council.

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