Public Records Law Trumps Arbitrator’s Decision

In September 2007, Local 890 of the International Association of Fire Fighters filed a grievance challenging a reprimand issued by the Klamath County, Oregon Fire District to a firefighter. During the grievance process, the District discovered new information and rescinded the reprimand. The District removed the disciplinary investigation records from the firefighter’s personnel file and placed them into a separate sealed file.

The Association then filed a new grievance, alleging the District violated the collective bargaining agreement when it failed to give the disciplinary records to the firefighter and destroy the District’s copy. An arbitrator ordered the District to turn over the disciplinary records to the firefighter. When the District refused to cooperate with the Arbitrator’s decision, Local 890 filed an unfair labor practice complaint.

Oregon’s Employment Relations Board found that the case presented a clear conflict between Oregon’s Public Records Act, which requires that public records such as the reprimand be maintained for three years, and compliance with the Arbitrator’s decision. In the Board’s view, the Public Records Act prevailed.

The Board held: “While we generally attempt to harmonize other statutes with the parties’ bargaining rights we cannot harmonize the statute with the Arbitrator’s award here. The Arbitrator’s award is contrary to public policy because it requires the commission of an unlawful act. The Legislature provides that ‘the decision as to what records are retained or destroyed is a matter of statewide public policy.’ We do not believe that the parties can, by private agreement, contravene this policy. The State Archivist established the specified retention period of time for the records here to be three years. The Arbitrator’s award requires the District to dispose of the records prior to the expiration of this three-year period. Accordingly, the District did not violate the collective bargaining law when it refused to comply with the Arbitrator’s award.”

International Association of Fire Fighters v. Klamath County Fire District No. 1, Case No. UP-07-09 (Or. ERB 2010).

This article appears in the December 2010 issue