Firefighter Promotional Grievance Held Arbitrable

The City of Lockport, New York and the Lockport Professional Firefighters Association are parties to a collective bargaining agreement that defines a grievance as including “all claimed violations of any contract existing between the City and the employees covered by” the CBA. After the City’s Civil Service Commission created a new Municipal Training Officer position within the Fire Department, the City and the Association negotiated the terms and conditions of employment and the job duties applicable to that position. The product of the negotiations was a Memorandum of Agreement that provided that employees in the position of Training Officer “shall only be eligible for future promotional consideration to a Line Officer’s position pursuant to existing civil service rules, regulations, and procedure beginning with Fire Lieutenant.”

The Commission later amended the job specifications for Fire Chief to make the Training Officer eligible for promotion to Fire Chief. The Association filed a grievance challenging the change, and the City responded with a lawsuit seeking a permanent stay of arbitration. The City’s argument was that the dispute was purely a matter of civil service law, not the MOA or the CBA, and that arbitration of the grievance would be contrary to public policy.

The Appellate Division of New York’s Supreme Court sent the grievance to arbitration. The Court noted that “this State has a strong public policy favoring arbitration of public sector labor disputes, and judicial intervention on public policy grounds constitutes a narrow exception to the otherwise broad power of parties to agree to arbitrate all of the disputes arising out of their juridical relationships. This dispute does not fall within the narrow scope of that exception, inasmuch as the provision of the MOA at issue concerns promotion, a term or condition of employment that is a proper subject for negotiation and agreement between the parties.”

The Court also rejected the City’s argument that enforcement of the MOA would violate public policy. The Court found that “while the Commission undoubtedly had the authority to establish minimum qualifications for job titles in City government, it does not follow that such determinations are immune from oversight or review. We conclude that submitting the parties’ dispute to arbitration does not violate the public policy underlying the Civil Service Law, inasmuch as a determination in favor of the Association would not compel petitioner to hire an unqualified candidate for the position of Fire Chief.

“Finally, the City’s contention that the Association’s dispute is with the Commission, which cannot be bound by an arbitration award, goes to the merits of the grievance, which are not the Court’s concern.”

City of Lockport and Lockport Professional Firefighters Association, 2015 WL 7305246 (N.Y. A.D. 2015).