Although a Civil Service Commission is vested with the authority to establish minimum qualifications for job titles such determinations are not immune from review in an arbitration proceeding
Matter of City of Lockport (Lockport Professional Firefighters Assn., Inc.), 2015 NY Slip Op 08581
The City of Lockport [Lockport] and Lockport Professional Firefighters Association, Inc., Local 963 [Association] are parties to a collective bargaining agreement [CBA] that defines grievance as including "all claimed violations of any contract existing between [Lockport] and the employees covered by" the CBA. After Lockport's Civil Service Commission [Commission] created a new position within the Lockport Fire Department, -- Municipal Training Officer [MTO] – the Association and Lockport negotiated the terms and conditions of employment and the job duties applicable to that position which resulted in a Memorandum of Agreement [MOA] that provided that employees in the position of MTO "shall only be eligible for future promotional consideration to a Line Officer's position pursuant to existing civil service rules, regulations, and procedure beginning with Fire Lieutenant."
The Commission subsequently amended the job specifications for Fire Chief to make the MTO eligible for promotion to Fire Chief. The Association filed a grievance and a demand for arbitration based upon Lockport's alleged violation of the MOA, and Lockport commenced this proceeding seeking a permanent stay of arbitration. Supreme Court granting Lockport’s petition and the Association's appealed that court’s ruling. The Appellate Division unanimously reversed the lower court’s ruling and Lockport appealed.
Lockport, for first time, raised in its appeal the argument that arbitration of the instant dispute was contrary to the Civil Service Law and public policy. The Appellate Division said that while such a contention may be raised for the first time on appeal, it concluded that the argument lacked merit. The court explained that New York State has a strong public policy favoring arbitration of public sector labor disputes and, citing NYC Transit Authority v Transport Workers Union, 99 NY2d 1, observed that "judicial intervention on public policy grounds constitutes a narrow exception to the otherwise broad power of parties to agree to arbitrate all of the disputes arising out of their juridical relationships."
The court continued, holding that “The instant dispute does not fall within the narrow scope of that exception, inasmuch as the provision of the MOA at issue concerns promotion, a term or condition of employment that is a proper subject for negotiation and agreement between the parties.”
The Appellate Division also rejected Lockport's argument that granting the remedy sought by Association -- enforcement of the MOA -- would violate public policy and conflict with the Civil Service Law because it would interfere with the Commission's authority to establish the qualifications for appointment to the position of Fire Chief. The court, quoting from Matter of Ulster County Sheriff’s Employees Association, 100 AD3d 1237, said "While the [Commission] undoubtedly had the authority to establish minimum qualifications for job titles in [City] government (see Civil Service Law §§50, 52), it does not follow that such determinations are immune from oversight or review" in an arbitration proceeding.”
Further, the Appellate Division was not persuaded by Lockport's claim that the Association's dispute was with the Commission and the Commission “cannot be bound by an arbitration award,” said this argument goes to "the merits of the grievance [which] are not the court[']s concern."
The decision is posted on the Internet at: