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August 21, 2017

Determining if a grievance alleging a violation of a provision in a collective bargaining agreement may be submitted to arbitration


Determining if a grievance alleging a violation of a provision in a collective bargaining agreement may be submitted to arbitration
City of Yonkers v Yonkers Fire Fighters, Local 628, IAFF, AFL-CIO, 2017 NY Slip Op 06073, Appellate Division, Second Department

Yonkers Fire Fighters Local 628, IAFF, AFL-CIO [Local 628] filed a grievance alleging that the City of Yonkers [Yonkers] engaged in a continuing practice of delaying and denying medical care and treatment claimed by its members pursuant to General Municipal Law §207-a after suffering an alleged line of duty injury. Yonkers denied the grievance and the Local demanded arbitration of its grievance.

Yonkers filed a petition pursuant to CPLR Article 75 seeking a court order permanently staying arbitration while the Local 628 cross-moved seeking an order compelling that the grievance be submitted to arbitration. Supreme Court denied Yonkers' petition and granted the Local 628's cross-motion. The Appellate Division affirmed the Supreme Court's actions.

The Appellate Division explained that public policy in New York favors arbitral resolution of public sector labor disputes if the demand for arbitration meets a two-prong test. The first test: the court must determine if there is any statutory, constitutional, or public policy prohibition against arbitrating the grievance. If it finds no such barrier, the court then must determine whether the parties agreed to arbitrate the particular dispute by examining their collective bargaining agreement.

Noting that Yonkers did not claim any statutory, constitutional, or public policy prohibition to arbitration of this grievance, the Appellate Division said that the second test may be satisfied if the court finds that "there is a reasonable relationship between the subject matter of the dispute and the general subject matter of the [collective bargaining agreement (CBA)]."

Finding that the relevant arbitration provisions set out in the CBA provide for arbitration of any grievance "involving the interpretation or application of any provision of this Agreement," and there was a reasonable relationship between the subject matter of the dispute, which involves the processing of General Municipal Law §207-a benefits to firefighters injured in the line of duty, the Appellate Division concluded that the grievance was arbitrable.

Addressing Yonkers' claim that the Local's grievance was untimely, the Appellate Division pointed out that the "threshold determination of whether a condition precedent to arbitration exists and whether it has been complied with, is for the court to determine."

In contrast, said the court, "[q]uestions concerning compliance with a contractual step-by-step grievance process have been recognized as matters of procedural arbitrability to be resolved by the arbitrators, particularly in the absence of a very narrow arbitration clause or a provision expressly making compliance with the time limitations a condition precedent to arbitration."

Here the CBA did not specify that "timely commencement of the grievance is a condition precedent to arbitration." Accordingly, the Appellate Division ruled that the question of whether the Local timely initiated its grievance ... must be resolved by the arbitrator, not the court.

* A third-party administrator, Pomco, Inc., processed GML §207-a claims filed by Yonkers firefighters on behalf of Yonkers.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
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