Second Time Is Not A Charm For Arbitrator

New Jersey’s Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) grew tired of an arbitrator’s errors, and permanently removed a substantial case from him. The case involved four different law enforcement bargaining units that negotiate with Passaic County, New Jersey. When no settlement was reached during bargaining, all four units proceeded to arbitration before the same arbitrator. The Arbitrator awarded a five-year contract calling for 4% increases per year.

The County challenged the award before PERC, arguing that the Arbitrator had failed to analyze each of the factors listed by New Jersey’s collective bargaining law as criteria for interest arbitrators. PERC agreed, overturned the arbitration award, and instructed the Arbitrator that the new award had to explain which of the statutory factors he deemed relevant, satisfactorily explain why the others are not relevant, and provide an analysis of the evidence on each relevant factor. In particular, PERC ordered the Arbitrator to make findings about the County’s alleged pattern of settlement with 13 other negotiations units, and to decide whether a wage and medical contribution pattern was established or whether the evidence supports a deviation from the pattern.

The Arbitrator then issued a new award on remand. The new award reduced the increases to 3.75% for 2007 and 2008, and 3.5% for 2009, 2010 and 2011. The new award still did not analyze each of the statutory criteria, and the County challenged the award before PERC.

This time PERC not only overturned the Arbitrator’s decision, but also took the case away from him: “In his decision on remand, the Arbitrator did not discuss the alleged internal pattern of settlement that we specifically directed him to address. The Arbitrator was required to address that evidence on remand and did not. The interest arbitration award is vacated and this matter is remanded for appointment of a new arbitrator. If the parties are unable to agree on a replacement arbitrator, an arbitrator shall be appointed by lot. The remand shall be decided on the existing record, unless the Arbitrator requires additional submissions.”

County of Passaic, PERC No. 2011-36 (N.J. PERC 2011).

This article appears in the March 2011 issue.