Retroactivity Language Applies To Grievance Procedure

Kitsap County, Washington and the Kitsap County Deputy Sheriff’s Guild have a history of not negotiating new contracts before an existing contract expires. The parties’ contract in effect between January 1, 2003 and December 31, 2005 was not negotiated until August 22, 2005. The 2006-2007 contract was not negotiated until July 24, 2006.

During the period of time between the expiration of the previous collective bargaining agreement and when the new agreements were negotiated, the Guild sought arbitration on ten grievances. The County refused to arbitrate the grievances on the grounds that they had raised claims that arose when no contract was in effect. The Guild then sued the County, seeking an order compelling arbitration.

The Washington Court of Appeals upheld the Guild’s position. The Court turned to the “term of agreement” language in each of the collective bargaining agreements. The 2003-2005 language read that the contract would be in full force and effect from “January 1, 2003 through December 31, 2005.” The 2006-2007 language read that the contract would be in effect from “January 1, 2006 through December 31, 2007.”

The Court ruled that “we consider collective bargaining agreements to be governed under ordinary principles of contract law. We interpret a contract to ascertain the parties’ objective intent by looking at the writing. We treat a retroactive agreement as if it was executed on the first date of the retroactive term.

“Here, the parties expressed their intent to retroactively apply all of the contracts’ terms when they signed each new contract. When fully executed, each new contract applied retroactively, covering any grievances that occurred between the dates set forth in the new agreement.”

Kitsap County Deputy Sheriff’s Guild v. Kitsap County, 2009 WL 387268 (Wash.App. 2009).

This article appears in the April 2009 issue