April 1, 2019

Arbitrability of a job security provision set out in a collective bargaining agreement


Supreme Court granted the petition filed by the City of Watertown Fire Department seeking a permanent stay of arbitration of a grievance filed by the Watertown Professional Firefighters Association, Local 191, the collective bargaining representative of firefighters concerning the staffing provisions set out in a collective bargaining agreement [CBA]. The court determined that the staffing provisions were unenforceable job security provisions that violate public policy and, therefore, may not be arbitrated. The Appellate Division unanimously reversed the lower court's order "on the law."

Citing Matter of Alden Cent. Sch. Dist. [Alden Cent. Schs. Administrators' Assn., 115 AD3d 1340, the Appellate Division explained that in deciding an application to stay or compel an arbitration brought under CPLR §7503, the court must make a two-part analysis as a "threshold determination of arbitrability" and is not concerned with the merits of the underlying claim.

First, the court is to determine if there is any "statutory, constitutional, or public policy" prohibition barring arbitration of the grievance. If no such prohibition is found, the court is then to determine if the parties to the CBA did, in fact, agree to arbitrate the particular dispute by examining the relevant CBA.

In this instance the Appellate Division concluded that Supreme Court "erred in determining that the staffing provisions are not arbitrable on the ground that they are job security provisions subject to the public policy exception to arbitration."

A job security provision in a CBA provides that "at least for the duration of the agreement," the employees in the unit covered by such a provision need not fear the elimination of their position. Here however, the Appellate Division opined that the staffing provisions at issue do not purport to guarantee a firefighter his or her employment while the CBA is in effect. In the words of the court, "contrary to the City's contention, the staffing provisions do not operate to mandate a total number of firefighters that must be employed; rather, they relate solely to the minimum number of firefighters required to be present during shifts and regular operations."

Rejecting the City contention that staffing provisions "were tantamount of a 'no layoff' clauses," the Appellate Division said that the record establishes that in the course of negotiations the parties viewed the staffing provisions as necessary to protect the health, safety and well-being of unit members. According, the court concluded that Supreme Court was in error when it determined that the staffing provisions were job security provisions not subject to arbitration.

Addressing the second part of the analysis -- whether the parties agreed to arbitrate the relevant dispute --the court concluded that the CBA contained a broad arbitration clause and its determination under that part of the analysis "is limited to whether there is a reasonable relationship between the subject matter of the dispute and the general subject matter of the CBA."

Finding that the City "references the staffing provisions in its labor grievance," the Appellate Division held that the grievance was reasonably related to the general subject matter of the CBA and concluded that the parties agreed to arbitrate the labor grievance.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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