Court Defers To Arbitrator’s Decision On Pay For Travel

On March 1, 2005, the Chief of Police of the New Jersey Transit Corporation issued orders temporarily assigning two police officers to each other’s regular assignments for a period of 28 calendar days. One officer was transferred from his position at Hoboken and assigned to the other officer’s position in Newark, and vice versa.

The officers’ labor organization, Local 304 of the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association (PBA), filed a grievance alleging that the assignments constituted an “involuntary tour swap.” An arbitrator ruled in the PBA’s favor. The Arbitrator concluded that the contract created a pool of officers who could be assigned to temporary positions, and that the pool did not include officers holding permanent bid positions. The Arbitrator directed that the officers be compensated for having their work location change through additional pay for travel time.

New Jersey Transit challenged the Arbitrator’s decision in court, arguing that the decision violated public policy because it restricted the Chief’s authority to reassign officers, thereby limiting his ability to enhance operational awareness in public safety. The Appellate Division in New Jersey’s Superior Court turned away the challenge to the decision.

The Court ruled that the employer’s argument “overlooks the fact that the arbitration award does not prohibit the Chief from making personnel assignments. The Arbitrator merely found, from an interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement, that officers who are involuntarily reassigned from certain positions are entitled to compensation. The issue is about compensation, not the authority of the Chief to reassign officers as he sees fit. Because the Arbitrator’s decision was based on a reasonable, although albeit fairly debatable interpretation of the contract, we are compelled to uphold it.”

New Jersey Transit Corporation v. PBA Local 304, 2009 WL 1750069 (N.J. Super. A.D. 2009).

This article appears in the August 2009 issue