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Monday, September 27, 2010

Alleged CBA violation must be submitted to arbitration unless both prongs of the two-prong test governing arbitrability of disputes are satisfied

Alleged CBA violation must be submitted to arbitration unless both prongs of the two-prong test governing arbitrability of disputes are satisfied
Matter of County of Orange v Civil Serv. Employees Assn. Local 1000 AFSCME, 2010 NY Slip Op 51647(U), Decided on September 22, 2010, Judge Jeffrey A. Cohen, [Not selected for publication in the Official Reports]

CSEA Local 1000 filed a contract grievance contending that Orange County had violated the relevant collective bargaining agreement [CBA] with it replaced the armed security officer with an unarmed security officer at a County Department of Social Services ("DSS") office. The Orange County Commissioner of Personnel denied the grievance and CSEA demanded that its grievance be submitted to arbitration.

Rather than proceed to arbitration, the County filed a petition with Supreme Court it which it alleged:

1. The new security officer is not an employee of the County and is not therefore covered by the CBA.

2. Determining whether a security officer should be armed or not “is not a matter incorporated in the terms of the CBA and is ‘exclusively a matter of management discretion’".

3. The issue CSEA sought to arbitrate “is prohibited by the terms of the contract between the [County] and the independent security firm” and thus is not a “contractual CBA issue … subject to [the] grievance and arbitration procedures".

CSEA, on the other hand, argued that should the court determines that a valid contract exists, then the "scope of the matters which might be arbitrated there under" must be decided by an arbitrator.

Judge Cohen said that "Under the two-prong inquiry governing arbitrability of disputes, courts must ascertain whether the parties may arbitrate their dispute and, if so, whether they agreed to do so," citing In re New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benev. Ass'n, Inc. (New York State Dept. of Civil Service), 70 AD3d 240.”

Explaining that arbitration of the grievance is not prohibited by any statutory, constitutional or public policy rule of law, the County’s petition will not be granted based on the first prong of the analysis.

As to whether these parties agreed to arbitrate the matters contained in the Grievance, in determining whether or not a particular claim sought to be arbitrated lies within the scope of the parties' arbitration agreement, Judge Cohen said that case law holds that "the courts are not to engage in a penetrating analysis of the scope of the substantive provisions of a CBA"

Rejecting the County’s argument that its contract with the independent security firm prohibits arbitration, the court commented that while the CBA does not preclude the County from entering into other independent contracts, in doing so it cannot ignore its own contractual obligations under the CBA.*

Holding that the County “cannot absolve itself of its contractual obligations under the CBA” by entering into a subsequent agreement with another party containing incompatible terms, Judge Cohen dismissed the County’s petition and directed that the matter be submitted to arbitration.

* Judge Cohen said that “It is worth noting that the CBA was in existence long before the independent contract for security became effective. It is axiomatic that a party who enters into separate contracts with different parties must manage its contracts so that its obligations under its first contract are not impaired by its obligations under subsequent agreements.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2010/2010_51647.htm
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