The collective bargaining agreement between Genesee County, Michigan and the Police Officer Association of Michigan has a safety clause, providing “the Employer will always consider the personal safety of the employees in establishing operational procedures.” The contract also gives the employer “the right to determine, establish and modify scheduling and manpower requirements, including, but not limited to the number of shifts, the starting and quitting times for all shifts and the manpower requirements for each shift to meet the needs of the Department.”
When the County issued a memorandum significantly restricting overtime worked by corrections officers, the Association filed a grievance, contending that the memorandum impacted the safety of its members.
An arbitrator denied the grievance. The Arbitrator’s opinion had a personal cast to it: “Certainly, as a native of Michigan, and having been an advocate in the labor area for years and an arbitrator for over 30 years, I have seen and experienced the pain of both employees and employers alike. The Flint area, in particular, has been hard hit by the loss of jobs.
“In reviewing the language of the collective bargaining agreement, it is clear that while the parties recognize the Sheriff’s primary duty and responsibility as providing law enforcement assistance to citizens of Genesee County, the parties also agreed that personal safety of employees in establishing operational procedures would always be an important consideration. Having said this, the parties recognize the general authority of the County Sheriff under the management rights clause, as well as the more specific intent of the parties that the Employer have the right to determine, establish, and modify scheduling and manpower requirements. This would include overtime when deemed necessary by the Employer. All this is to be done within the context of the Employer always considering the personal safety of employees in establishing operational procedures.
“The Association has the burden of demonstrating that the Sheriff did not consider personal safety of the employees in establishing operational procedures. While the Association has cited numerous incidents that demonstrate that having more staff on duty at all times would lead to a higher quality of safety, it is not clear that the Sheriff has violated the contract’s requirement that he consider the personal safety of employees in establishing operational procedures. Deputies have the right to lock down the pod by ordering inmates back into their cells. The County’s plan includes having backup procedures, in terms of officers and supervisors calling for additional help in emergency situations. To be sure, these procedures are far from perfect and not ideal. However, they do demonstrate that the Employer is considering the personal safety of employees in establishing its procedures.
“Further, Administrator Cobb testified that the department had considered employee safety in the development of its staffing practices and procedures. Former Undersheriff Gage also testified concerning a verbal report of findings of the study to him. He testified that no incidents of risk to employee safety were discovered as a result of the staffing changes. Of course, it would have reassured me far more had there been a written study that could have been submitted at the hearing. Certainly, this would have been reassurance to all of the parties involved on such an important point.
“Employee safety certainly should be a priority, particularly in a jail setting. Likewise, the parties have demonstrated an intent to consider employee safety by the inclusion of the safety clause in the collective bargaining agreement.
“However, under the collective bargaining contract, arbitrators are limited to the application and interpretation of this Agreement as written. As a result of this wording, your Arbitrator is restricted in terms of authority and possible remedies. Although having definite concerns, along with the Association, about staffing levels and safety issues in this matter, I do conclude that, after considering the entire record, including both exhibits and testimony, as well as the well presented post-hearing briefs of legal counsel, there is insufficient proof to demonstrate a violation of the contract.”
Genesee County, 130 LA 617 (McDonald, 2012).