Arbitrator Rules In Favor Of Disciplinary Arbitration

Written on 08/07/2021
Will Aitchison

When the collective bargaining agreement between the Village of River Forest in Illinois and the FOP expired in April 2019, the parties were unable to reach agreement on a new contract. In dispute was the system of appealing discipline.

The prior labor agreements between the Village and the FOP excluded discipline from the coverage of the contract and routed disciplinary appeals to the Village’s Board of Fire and Police Commissioners. The FOP proposed that employees have the option of seeking review of discipline through the grievance and arbitration provisions of the Agreement. The Village proposed maintaining the status quo – i.e., discipline would only be reviewable by the Board.

Under Illinois law, disputes over the content of public safety labor contracts are resolved by an interest arbitrator. The Village and the FOP chose Arbitrator Edward Benn, one of the most experienced interest arbitrators in the country, to resolve the issue of disciplinary appeals.

The Arbitrator sided with the FOP. The Arbitrator cited Section 8 of the state’s collective bargaining law, which provides that “the collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the employer and the exclusive representative shall contain a grievance resolution procedure which shall apply to all employees in the bargaining unit and shall provide for final and binding arbitration of disputes concerning the administration or interpretation of the agreement unless mutually agreed otherwise.”

As the Arbitrator analyzed it: “The 2016-2019 Agreement (and previous contracts) did not provide for arbitration of discipline. Therefore, prior to this dispute, the parties ‘mutually agreed otherwise’ and the requirement in Section 8 that ‘the collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the employer and the exclusive representative shall contain a grievance resolution procedure which shall apply to all employees in the bargaining unit and shall provide for final and binding arbitration of disputes concerning the administration or interpretation of the agreement’ did not apply.

“However, the FOP now seeks to change the grievance process to include arbitration of discipline as an option. The parties have no longer ‘mutually agreed otherwise.’ Section 8 therefore requires an arbitration provision for discipline.

“I have previously faced this issue (going back over 30 years) and I have required arbitration of discipline pursuant to the mandate in Section 8. Other arbitrators have reached similar results.

“While the above analysis ends the dispute, I can take note that the FOP’s request for employees to have review of disciplinary actions submitted to arbitration is the policy of this State. Section 2 of the [collective bargaining law] clearly states that ‘to prevent labor strife and to protect the public health and safety of the citizens of Illinois, all collective bargaining disputes involving persons designated by the Board as performing essential services and those persons defined herein as security employees shall be submitted to impartial arbitrators, who shall be authorized to issue awards in order to resolve such disputes.’

“The Village argues that this case is unique because the parties have an historical bargaining relationship particularly on this issue, I have discretion and, as provided in the ground rules for this case, the parties agreed that I can select the Village’s final offer to maintain the status quo. But there is no discretion in Section 8. Even assuming I had discretion as the Village argues, I would not exercise that discretion in light of that mandatory provision in Section 8 and my (as well as other arbitrators) over 30 years of deciding this issue consistent with the mandate requiring arbitration where the parties have not ‘mutually agreed otherwise’ as stated in Section 8.”

Village of River Forest, CASE NOS.: S-MA-19-132 (Benn, 2021).

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