The County of Rockland in New York and the Superior Officers Council of the Sheriff’s Corrections Officers Association of Rockland County are parties to a collective bargaining agreement that requires the members of the Association to be paid a certain percentage more than the rate of pay of the corrections officers they supervise.
On December 17, 2017, the corrections officers’ union reached an agreement with the County to increase their members’ salaries, including salary increases for the years 2016 and 2017. However, the corrections officers also agreed to waive retroactive pay for those years.
The Association filed a grievance on behalf of its members seeking payment for retroactive salary increases for the years 2016 and 2017. The County denied the grievance on the grounds that the collective bargaining agreement did not contain a provision requiring it to pay Association members a retroactive salary unless one was received by the corrections officers’ union. The Association demanded arbitration, so the County sued, seeking a court order preventing arbitration.
A state appeals court ordered the County and the Association to arbitrate the grievance. The Court noted that “the determination of whether a dispute between a public sector employer and employee is arbitrable is subject to a two-prong test. Initially, the Court must determine whether there is any statutory, constitutional, or public policy prohibition against arbitrating the grievance. If there is no prohibition against arbitrating, the Court must examine the parties’ agreement and determine if they in fact agreed to arbitrate the particular dispute. In examining the agreement, the Court must merely determine whether there is a reasonable relationship between the subject matter of the dispute and the general subject matter of the agreement.
“If there is such a relationship, the Court should rule the matter arbitrable, and the arbitrator will then make a more exacting interpretation of the precise scope of the substantive provisions of the agreement and whether the subject matter of the dispute fits within them. A court may not consider whether the claim with respect to which arbitration is sought is tenable, or otherwise pass upon the merits of the dispute.”
The Court then turned to the me-too grievance. The Court noted that “here, the County did not contend that arbitration of the grievance was prohibited by law or public policy. Thus, the only issue is whether the parties agreed to arbitrate this particular grievance.
“The arbitration provision of the agreement at issue is broad, and there is a reasonable relationship between the subject matter of the dispute, which involves the Association’s claim that its members are entitled to certain payments for retroactive salary increases, and the general subject matter of the agreement. Although some uncertainty exists as to whether the subject matter of the dispute is encompassed within the salary provisions of the agreement or whether the parties contemplated that a separate agreement would be required for wage increases to be paid retroactively, any alleged ambiguity regarding the coverage of any applicable provision is a matter of contract interpretation for the Arbitrator to resolve.”
County of Rockland, 2019 WL 6720466 (N.Y. App. Div. 2019).