Arbitrator’s Layoff Decision Upheld

In August 2009, the City of Lawrence, Massachusetts laid off a number of employees, including Michael Delaney, who had been employed as a dispatcher at the Fire Department since November of 2005. At the time of the layoff, Delaney was not the least senior employee in the Department; there was another non-uniformed employee, a mechanic, who had less seniority than Delaney. The Fire Chief believed that the layoff of the mechanic would create a safety issue for the Department. The Chief maintained that two mechanics were required to properly service and repair equipment and because only one other mechanic was available, it was not feasible to lay off the mechanic and retain the dispatcher.

Local 146 of the International Association of Fire Fighters challenged the Chief’s decision in arbitration. The Arbitrator agreed with Local 146 and found that “when layoffs had been conducted in the past, they had been done on the basis of seniority.” The Arbitrator concluded that while “the Chief has inherent management rights to manage his department particularly in the area of policy and staffing, those rights can be and are limited by the provisions of the Contract.” The Arbitrator ordered the Chief to reinstate Delaney with back pay.

The City challenged the Arbitrator’s opinion in court, arguing that the Arbitrator exceeded his authority because his decision invaded the City’s non-delegable duties and managerial prerogatives, and violated public policy by placing the public at a safety risk.

The Appeals Court of Massachusetts upheld the Arbitrator’s opinion. The Court held that “while the City is correct that a decision to lay off employees is a non-delegable managerial prerogative, it is clear that a public employer may negotiate to follow certain procedures when such a decision is implemented, and the question whether the employer has followed those procedures is a matter subject to arbitration. Here, the grievance at issue did not involve a challenge to the City’s decision to lay off an employee. Instead, the grievance arose from the City’s failure to adhere to its past practice of laying off employees according to seniority, a procedural requirement that is an appropriate subject of bargaining and grievance arbitration. The basis on which employees will be selected for involuntary layoff is a mandatory subject of bargaining. Thus, contrary to the City’s assertion, the grievance was a proper subject for arbitration.

“As to the City’s claim that the arbitration award violates public policy, it suffices to note that there is no well-defined or dominant public policy in favor of fire departments retaining mechanics over other department employees. Moreover, the City’s argument that proper maintenance of the fire apparatus requires at least two department mechanics because anything less would have potentially compromised the safety of the firefighters and the public is a factual argument rejected by the Arbitrator, whose factual findings we do not review.”

City of Lawrence v. Lawrence Firefighters, Local 146, 993 N.E.2d 373 (Mass. App. 2013).