May 29, 2018

Determining if a dispute between a public employer and an employee organization is arbitrable


Determining if a dispute between a public employer and an employee organization  is arbitrable
Matter of City of Long Beach v Long Beach Professional Fire Fighters Assn., Local 287, 2018 NY Slip Op 03356, Appellate Division, Second Department

The City of Long Beach [Long Beach] filed a petition pursuant to CPLR Article 75 seeking a permanent stay of a demand for arbitration submitted by the Long Beach Professional Fire Fighters Assn., Local 287 [Local 287].

Local 287 sought arbitration alleging that Long Beach had violated provisions set out in a collective bargaining agreement* negotiated by the parties addressing [1] the layoff of certain Long Beach firefighters and [2] the terms and conditions of employment with respect to certain paramedics when Long Beach "unilaterally set the terms of employment" for certain paramedics when they were hired.

Initially the Appellate Division observed that a public employer has wide latitude to negotiate the terms of the agreements, and can agree to submit disputes to arbitration in "the absence of plain and clear prohibitions in statute or controlling decisional law, or restrictive public policy" and, Matter of Patrolmen's Benevolent Assn. of City of N.Y., Inc. v New York State Pub. Empl. Relations Bd., 6 NY3d 563 noted that although the Taylor Law reflects New York's " strong'" policy favoring arbitration, this principle is not without limits.

New York courts use a two-part test to determine if a dispute is arbitrable, first asking if "there is any statutory, constitutional or public policy prohibition against arbitration of the grievance." In the absence of any such prohibition, the court then inquires as to whether the parties in fact agreed to arbitrate the particular dispute by examining their collective bargaining agreement.

A court must stay arbitration where it can conclude, upon the examination of the parties' contract and any implicated statute on their face, "that the granting of any relief would violate public policy."

Turning to Local 287's claim that Long Beach's decision regarding layoffs of the firefighters was subject to arbitration the Appellate Division said that Civil Service Law §80(1), Suspension or demotion upon the abolition or reduction of positions, provides that a public employer has the nondelegable discretion to determine—for reasons of economy, among others — what its staffing and budgetary needs are in order to effectively deliver uninterrupted services to the public. Accordingly, and in the absence of bad faith, fraud, or collusion, that discretion "is an undisputed management prerogative" for the public's benefit, and cannot be altered or modified by agreement or otherwise.

Thus, said the Appellate Division, arbitration of the claim regarding the layoffs of the firefighters would violate public policy.

Turning to Local 287's claims relating to the terms and conditions of employment of the paramedics, the court opined that "no public policy precludes arbitration of those claims." Further, the court noted that the arbitration provision in the CBA "permits arbitration of such claims."

* Civil Service Law Article 14, typically referred to as the "Taylor Law."

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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