For many years, the New Jersey Turnpike Authority and the South Jersey Transportation Authority – independent authorities that operate the State’s major toll roads – allowed State Troopers to travel over those roads in their personal vehicles without paying tolls. As a result, troopers were able to commute to and from work without incurring that expense.
Nothing in the State’s collective bargaining agreement with the State Troopers Fraternal Association specifically addressed the issue of tolls. The State never contractually agreed to pay the Troopers’ travel expenses to get to and from work, and never previously reimbursed them for their toll expenses. The State also had no agreement with the Authorities providing that those entities would give the Troopers free toll passage.
In November 2010, the two Authorities notified the State that they would no longer provide toll-free passage for Troopers commuting to and from work. When the State declined to reimburse the Troopers for their toll-related commuting expenses, the Association filed a grievance contending that the payment of tolls was a binding past practice.
An arbitrator upheld the grievance. The Arbitrator ruled that toll-free passage was a negotiable benefit. He also reasoned that the provision of toll-free passage was an established past practice, though he did acknowledge that the CBA specifically provided a mileage allowance and had no provision for toll-free commuting.
The State then challenged the Arbitrator’s decision in Court. An appeals court upheld the challenge and overturned the granting of the grievance.
The Court found that that the Arbitrator exceeded his authority and made a mistake of law by reading into the contract a term that was not found there and was not reasonably debatable as an interpretation of the contract. The Court held that “the fact that toll-free passage or toll reimbursement was ‘negotiable’ did not mean that the parties in fact negotiated for it. To the contrary, they clearly did not, because the contract addressed commutation expenses in the form of a mileage allowance and did not provide for toll reimbursement.
“Moreover, the Arbitrator’s discussion of the third-party nature of the benefit was illogical. The privilege of toll-free commutation was a gratuitous benefit provided by the Authorities, and not a benefit provided by, agreed to, or controlled by the State. The toll-free arrangement was a past practice between the Authorities and the Troopers, not between the Troopers and the Division.”
State of New Jersey v. State Troopers Fraternal Association, 2017 WL 1365397 (N.J. Super. A.D. 2017).