Sunday, November 27, 2011

No layoff clause not subject to arbitration

Reversing the lower court, the New York Court of Appeals has concluded that a dispute between the Village of Johnson City and the Johnson City Professional Firefighters Association concerning a no layoff provision of their agreement was not subject to arbitration. The court noted it had previously ruled that, while a job security provision in a public sector contract was not contrary to public policy, it must be explicit. The clause in issue here provided “A. The Village shall not lay-off any member of the bargaining unit during the term of this contract. B. The Village shall not be required to 'back fill' hire additional members to meet staffing level of expired agreement." 

The dispute arose when the Village voted to abolish various positions within the government, including six firefighter positions, citing budgetary necessity. The union claimed this was in violation of the no layoff provision, and ultimately sought arbitration of the issue. Because the Court found the no layoff provision did not, in and of itself, explicitly prohibit the Village from abolishing firefighter positions out of budgetary necessity, it found the provision insufficiently explicit to support the union’s claim. As a result the Court concluded  

Simply put, because the clause is not explicit, unambiguous and comprehensive, there is nothing for the Union to grieve or for an arbitrator to decide. Having concluded that this dispute is not arbitrable for reasons of public policy, we need not reach the issue of whether the parties agreed to arbitrate.

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