December 17, 2018

A three-part test is applied by the court to determine if a party to a collective bargaining agreement's demand for arbitration is viable

A three-part test is applied by the court to determine if a party to a collective bargaining agreement's demand for arbitration is viable
City of Yonkers v Yonkers Fire Fighters, Local 628, IAFF, AFL-CIO, 2018 NY Slip Op 08294, Appellate Division, Second Department

The collective bargaining agreement [CBA] between Local 328 and the City of 
Yonkers provides a three-step grievance procedure to resolve a dispute involving the interpretation or application of any provision of the CBA. In the event the grievance is not administratively resolved at any of the three step of the grievance procedure, the City or Local 328, as the case may be, may elect to submit the dispute to arbitration.

When the City issued a General Order, General Order No. 4-15, changing certain dispatch response protocols for Emergency Medical Service [EMS] personnel to include new or additional incidents, Local 628 filed a grievance asserting, among other things, that the new protocols had not negotiated with it. After exhausting its internal grievance remedies, Local 628 filed a timely demanded for arbitration of the dispute.

In response to Local 628's demand for arbitration, the City had initiated this Article 75 proceeding in Supreme Court seeking an order permanently staying arbitration, contending that the dispute was not arbitrable. Supreme Court agreed with the City argument and, in effect, granted the City's petition to permanently stay arbitration.

Local 628 appealed the Supreme Court's ruling and the Appellate Division reversed the Supreme Court's determination "on the law."

The Appellate Division, citing Matter of City of Long Beach v Civil Serv. Empls. Assn., Inc., Long Beach Unit, 8 NY3d 465, explained that "[p]ublic policy in New York favors arbitral resolution of public sector labor disputes." A dispute between a public sector employer and an employee, however, is only arbitrable if it satisfies a two-prong test.

Initially the court must determine that there is no statutory, constitutional, or public policy prohibition against arbitrating the grievance. If the demand for arbitration survives this judicial test, the court must then "examine the parties' collective bargaining agreement and determine if they in fact agreed to arbitrate the particular dispute." Further, when deciding whether a dispute is arbitrable the court may not consider the merits of the dispute as the arbitrator is charged with weighing the merits of the claim.

Noting that it was undisputed that there is no statutory, constitutional, or public policy prohibition to arbitration of Local 628's grievance, the Appellate Division said that the only issue to be resolved is whether the parties, in fact, agreed to arbitrate the dispute.

Citing Matter of Uniform Firefighters of Cohoes, Local 2562, IAFF, AFL-CIO v City of Cohoes, 94 NY2d 686, the Appellate Division explained that "Where, as here, the relevant arbitration provision of the CBA is broad, if the matter in dispute bears a reasonable relationship to some general subject matter of the CBA, it will be for the arbitrator and not the courts to decide whether the disputed matter falls within the CBA."

Local 628's grievance alleged that the City violated Article 33.1 of the CBA, which mandated that the EMS program be kept at the highest level of professional standards based upon the standards in place at the time of the agreement. Local 628 contended that General Order 4-15 increased the call protocols and subjected its members to calls for which they are not trained and lack necessary equipment. Accordingly, said the Appellate Division, the grievance is reasonably related to at least one provision in the CBA, and the Supreme Court should have denied the petition to permanently stay arbitration.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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