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April 12, 2011

Where a collective bargaining agreement sets out a “board agreement to arbitrate,” the arbitrator, rather than the court, is to determine if the grievance is subject to arbitration

Where a collective bargaining agreement sets out a “board agreement to arbitrate,” the arbitrator, rather than the court, is to determine if the grievance is subject to arbitration
Matter of City of Binghamton v Binghamton Police Benevolent Assn., Inc., 2011 NY Slip Op 02109, Appellate Division, Third Department

When the Binghamton chief of police instituted new rules concerning the use of sick leave and subsequently counseled a police officer about an alleged pattern of suspected sick leave abuse and the need to provide a physician’s notes for all future sick leave absences, the Police Benevolent Association filed a grievance alleging a violation of the collective bargaining agreement between the Association and the City. In addition, the Association contended that the new policy constituted “departure from past practices.”

The grievance was denied by both the police chief and a representative of the mayor. The City, in response to the Association demand to submit the grievance to arbitration, filed a petition pursuant to Article 75 of the CPLR seeking a stay of arbitration. Supreme Court denied the petition and the City appealed.

The Appellate Division affirmed the Supreme Court’s determination, noting that the sole issue to be resolved was whether the parties to the CBA agreed to refer disputes in this specific area to arbitration.

In such situation, said the Appellate Division, courts "should merely determine whether there is a reasonable relationship between the subject matter of the dispute and the general subject matter of the CBA."

As the parties' broad agreement to arbitrate provided that "[a]ny grievance or dispute which may arise between the parties involving the application, meaning, or interpretation of this [a]greement," the Appellate Division ruled that the subject matter of the dispute bears a reasonable relationship to the articulated contract provisions and, therefore, it is for an arbitrator to decide in the first instance whether the precise scope of those provisions covers the issues presented in the Association’s grievance.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
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