Court Upholds Arbitrator’s Opinion Enforcing Staffing Clause

The City of Oak Park and the Police Officers Association of Michigan are parties to a collective bargaining agreement. One clause in the agreement required a minimum staffing level of seven officers per shift, or eight if an officer was assigned to dispatch. The contract required the minimal levels to “be in effect for the term of this agreement, however, it cannot be modified unless (1) mutually agreed to by both the employer and the Union; or (2) as a result of bargaining on the subsequent contract to this agreement; or (3) so ordered by an arbitrator.”

When the collective bargaining agreement expired in 2001, the City reduced staffing levels below the minimums required in the contract. The Association challenged the City’s decision through the grievance procedure.

An arbitrator upheld the agreement, and ordered the City to comply with the staffing clause. The City then challenged the Arbitrator’s decision in the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The Court upheld the Arbitrator’s opinion. Given the narrow scope of court review of arbitration decisions, the Court noted that “whether we agree with the arbitrator’s interpretation is irrelevant. Where an arbitrator’s decision clearly indicates that he or she interpreted the contract provisions agreed to by the parties, our function is to determine whether the Arbitrator’s conclusions were within the framework of the contract.”

The Court found that the Arbitrator’s decision met this test. The Arbitrator’s decision turned on whether the minimum staffing provision survived the termination date of the contract. The Court found that the Arbitrator’s conclusion – that the language of the clause required it to remain in effect unless modified by the parties – was a reasonable reading of the contract.

The Court concluded that “our role is not to weigh the pros and cons of the competing interpretations of this provision. Because the Arbitrator did not disregard unambiguous provisions and his decision finds its basis in a specific contract clause, the Arbitrator’s decision draws its essence from the contract and must be upheld.”

City of Oak Park v. Police Officers Association of Michigan, 2006 WL 1479552 (Mich.App. 2006).

This article appears in the August 2006 issue