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November 6, 2016

Seniority for the purposes of layoff set out in the Civil Service Law and the Education Law trump those set out in a collective bargaining agreement

Seniority for the purposes of layoff set out in the Civil Service Law and the Education Law trump those set out in a collective bargaining agreement

Matter of New York City Tr. Auth. v Transport Workers Union of Am., Local 100, 2011 NY Slip Op 07431, Appellate Division, Second Department

In 1999 the New York City Transit Authority (“NYCTA”), its subsidiary, the Manhattan and Bronx Surface Transit Operating Authority (“MABSTOA”) and the Transport Workers Union of America, Local 100 (“TWU”), entered into a collective bargaining agreement that, in pertinent part, provided for “the commingling of personnel, including bus operators,” between NYCTA and MADSTO for the purposes of selecting job assignments within both entities. TWU created a consolidated “seniority list” for bus operators it represented working for NYCTA and MABSOTA.

When TWU was advised that due to a budget shortfall, staff reductions were required that would affect bus operators employed by NYCTA and MADSTO and that at-risk NYCTA bus operators, as civil service employees, would be laid off in civil service seniority order, and at-risk MABSTOA bus operators, who were not civil service employees would be laid off in order of seniority in title, as provided for in the CBA, TWU filed a contract interpretation grievance on behalf of bus operators in the units it represented alleging that the announced method for laying off bus operators violated the surface consolidation agreement and as a remedy, asked for a determination that the bus operators for each be laid off pursuant to the consolidated seniority list used for picking job assignments.

Ultimately NYCTA initiated an Article 75 proceeding to permanently stay the arbitration on the ground that the relief sought was prohibited by the statutory requirements set out in the Civil Service Law for conducting layoffs of employees in the classified service. The Supreme Court granted the petition and permanently stayed arbitration of the grievance. The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

The Appellate Division explained that “In the public sector context, determining whether a grievance is arbitrable requires a court to first determine whether ‘there is any statutory, constitutional or public policy prohibition against arbitration of the grievance'" and if there is no prohibition against arbitration, then the court must determine "whether the parties in fact agreed to arbitrate the particular dispute by examining their collective bargaining agreement."

NYCTA contended that the subject matter of the grievance was prohibited by law or public policy. In that regard, said the Appellate Division, a dispute is not arbitrable "if a court can conclude without engaging in any extended fact-finding or legal analysis' that a law prohibit[s], in an absolute sense, [the] particular matters [to be] decided' by arbitration."

The Appellate Division concluded that “assuming that the surface consolidation agreement affects how [NYCTA is] to conduct layoffs, the particular matter to be decided is prohibited, in an absolute sense, by Civil Service Law §80(1), which provides the sole manner by which an employer may lay off civil service employees in [the] competitive class,” citing Matter of County of Chautauqua v Civil Serv. Empls. Assn., Local 1000, AFSCME, AFL-CIO, County of Chautauqua Unit 6300, Chautauqua County Local 807, 8 NY3d at 521).

Accordingly, layoffs within the title of bus operator in the NYCTA can only be made in inverse order of civil service seniority consistent with the mandates of Civil Service Law §80(1) and not by any other method such as the use of the consolidated seniority list. The Appellate Division concluded that "an arbitrator could not fashion a different remedy for this particular grievance that would not violate statutory requirements or public policy.”

This element – seniority for the purpose layoff – cannot be diminished or impaired by the terms of collective bargaining agreement as demonstrated by the Appellate Division’s decision in City of Plattsburgh v Local 788, 108 AD2d 1045.*

In the Plattsburgh case the issue concerned the application of a Taylor Law contract provision dealing with seniority in a layoff situation.

The collective bargaining agreement between Plattsburgh and the Union provided if there were to be demotions in connection with a layoff, the "date of hire" was to be used to determine an employee's seniority. However, the "date of hire" might not necessarily be the same date used to determine an individual's service for seniority purposes for layoff under State law, i.e., the individual's date of initial permanent appointment in public service.

For example, assume Employee A was provisionally appointed on January 1, and Employee B was provisionally appointed February 1, of the same year. Employee B, however, was permanently appointed on March 1 of the same year, while Employee A was permanently appointed a month later, on April 1.

Under the terms of the Local 788 collective bargaining agreement A would have greater seniority for layoff purposes than B. But §§80 and 80-a of the Civil Service Law provides that the date of an individual's most recent, uninterrupted "permanent appointment" determines his or her seniority for the purposes of layoff and so, under the law, B would have greater seniority than A.

These were the critical events in the Plattsburgh case. The City laid off Mousseau rather than another worker, Racine. While Mousseau, had been employed by the City for a longer period than Racine, Racine had received his permanent appointment before Mousseau was permanently appointed.

The Union grieved, contending that under the seniority provision in the collective bargaining agreement, Racine should have been laid off. The City, on the other hand, argued that Civil Service Law §80 controlled and thus Mousseau, rather than Racine, had to be laid off first. The Appellate Division ruled that Plattsburgh was entitled to an order barring submitting the Union’s grievance to arbitration. The Court said that §80 of the Civil Service Law "reflects a legislative imperative" that the City was powerless to bargain away.

Similarly, in Szumigala v Hicksville Union Free School District, 148 AD2d 621, the Appellate Division, citing Cheektowaga v Nyquest, 38 NY2d 137, held that a seniority clause in a Taylor Law agreement violated §2510 of the Education Law when it permitted seniority in different tenure areas to be combined for the purposes of determining seniority with the District for the purposes of layoff.

As the Court of Appeals said in County of Chautauqua v Civil Service Employees Ass'n, 8 N.Y.3d 513, “Once such an informed decision as to which positions are to be [abolished] is made, §80(1) obligates the employer to respect the seniority rights of its employees." The same it true with respect to layoffs of personnel in the unclassified service.

Source The Anatomy of a Layoff by Harvey Randall, Esq., Municipal Lawyer, Summer 2009, Vol. 23, No. 2, published by the New York State Bar Association, One Elk Street, Albany, NY 12207 © 2009 New York State Bar Association. Reprinted with permission.

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