December 11, 2020

Finding a reasonable relationship between the subject matter of a grievance and certain provisions set out in a collective bargaining agreement is often the key to submitting the dispute to arbitration

The Yonkers City School District School Board [Board] and the Yonkers Federation of Teachers [YFT] were parties to a collective bargaining agreement [CBA] negotiated pursuant to Article 14 of the Civil Service Law, the so-called "Taylor Law". YFT filed a grievance alleging that "someone disclosed confidential information to the public" related to disciplinary charges involving two tenured teachers represented by YFT filed a "contract grievance," claiming a violation of the Board's Code of Ethics and the relevant CBA, and ultimately demanded that the matter be submitted to arbitration. 

The Board objected to submitting the issue to arbitration and commenced a CPLR Article 75 proceeding seeking a court order to permanently stay the arbitration demanded by YTF. YTF, in response, filed a motion to compel arbitration. The Supreme Court dismissed the Board's petition and granted YFT's motion seeking to compel arbitration of its grievance whereupon the Board appealed the Supreme Court's ruling.

The Appellate Division affirmed the Supreme Court's decision. The court explained that "Public policy in New York favors arbitral resolution of public sector labor disputes," noting, however, that a dispute between a public sector employer and a public employee organization concerning a provision set out in a CBA will survive a motion to stay the arbitration if it fails the "two-prong test" used by New York State courts in resolving such matters.

The first test, said the court, is determining if there is any statutory, constitutional, or public policy prohibition against arbitrating the grievance. If no such prohibition is found, the second test is for the court to determine if the parties did, in fact, agree to arbitrate the particular dispute.

The Board, in the course of its argument before the Appellate Division, asserted, for the first time, that the arbitration of YFT's grievance was prohibited by General Municipal Law §806 and public policy, contending that the Board had "reserved its right to adopt the Code of Ethics authorized by the statute."

With respect to the first test, the Appellate Division opined that the Board may raise such an argument for the first time on appeal, citing  Matter of NiagaraWheatfield Adm'rs Assn. [NiagaraWheatfield Cent. School Dist.], 44 NY2d 68. The court, however, rejected the Board's argument as being without merit, pointing out that the fact that a violation of the Board's Code of Ethics is a potential basis for disciplinary action does not render it nonarbitrable.

Turning to the second test, the Appellate Division said that the Board contended that the grievance is excluded from arbitration as there is no reference in the CBA to the Code of Ethics.

The Appellate Division rejected this contention as well, explaining that when a court is analyzing whether the parties did, in fact, agree to arbitrate the particular dispute, the court "is merely to determine whether there is a reasonable relationship between the subject matter of the dispute and the general subject matter of the CBA," citing Matter of Board of Educ. of Yorktown Cent. Sch. Dist. v Yorktown Congress of Teachers, 98 AD3d 665.

The Appellate Division observed that it has held that the arbitration provision of the CBA at issue here was broad and found that there was a reasonable relationship between the subject matter of the instant dispute, the disclosure to the public of confidential information regarding disciplinary charges against tenured teachers, and the general subject matter of the CBA, including the terms and conditions of employment.

Thus, said the court, it agreed with the Supreme Court's determination denying the Board's petition seeking a permanent stay of YFT's demand that its grievance be submitted to arbitration and granting the YFT's motion to compel the arbitration of its grievance.

The decision is posted on the Internet at http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/3dseries/2020/2020_06524.htm

 

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