Fire Department’s No-Layoff Clause Subject To Binding Arbitration

The Johnson City, New York Professional Firefighters, Local 921 IAFF and the Village of Johnson City are parties to a collective bargaining agreement. The contract provides that “the Village shall not lay off any member of the bargaining unit during the term of the contract.” The Contract also includes a grievance procedure by which disputes “involving the interpretation or application of any provisions of the contract are subject to binding arbitration.”

The Village abolished the positions of six firefighters, announcing that the action was required by economic distress. Local 921 filed a grievance asserting that the Village’s action violated the contract’s no-layoff provision. The Village denied the grievance, and Local 921 commenced a lawsuit seeking a preliminary injunction prohibiting the Village from laying off the firefighters while the grievance was pending. When Local 921 served a demand for arbitration on the Village and the Public Employment Relations Board, the Village sued Local 921, seeking to permanently stay arbitration. The disputes ended up in the Appellate Division of New York’s court system.

The Village contended that the grievance should not be submitted to arbitration because restrictions on the Village’s right to abolish positions would violate public policy and interfere with the statutory mandate of New York’s Civil Service Law. As the Court analyzed it, “in deciding whether a grievance is arbitrable, we first ask whether there is any statutory, constitutional or public policy prohibition against arbitration of the grievance. We find that the contract’s no-layoff clause is not subject to any prohibition against arbitration.

“A public employer does not violate public policy by voluntarily including a reasonable job security provision in a contract. The clause at issue here was not shown to be unreasonable, as the contract’s three-year duration was relatively brief, and the agreement was not negotiated by parties of unequal bargaining power during a financial emergency. Further, public policy limitations on arbitrability are rare and almost invariably involve a nondelegable constitutional or statutory duty. We find no conflict between the no-layoff clause under examination and any plain and clear prohibition in statute or controlling decisional law, or restrictive public policy that would bar arbitration of the grievance.”

In re Johnson City Professional Firefighters Local 921 (Village of Johnson City), 2010 WL 1375215 (N.Y. A.D. 2010).

This article appears in the July 2010 issue