ARBITRATOR DENIES GRIEVANCE BY POLICE SUPERIOR OFFICERS’ UNION AFTER TEN-DAY HEARING, FINDING CITY OF METHUEN DID NOT VIOLATE ANY COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT IN ADMINISTRATION OF WAGES DURING THE PERIOD OF JULY 1, 2017, AND JUNE 30, 2020 AND THAT THE WAGE PROVISION OF THE MOST RECENT CONTRACT IS UNENFORCEBALE
Attorneys Darren Klein (lead counsel) and Jared Collins, with Attorney John Foskett of Valerio, Dominello, and Hillman, LLC, successfully defended the City of Methuen at arbitration arising from a dispute over wage increases allegedly included in the City’s collective bargaining agreement with its Police Superior Officers’ Union for the period from July 1, 2017, through June 30, 2020. The collective bargaining agreement in question that formed the basis for the Union’s grievance was presented to the Methuen City Council and approved in September of 2017. However, the City later discovered that this agreement included language that the parties did not discuss, and to which the City did not agree. By the City’s calculations, if this language had been enforced, superior officers in the City’s police department would have received astronomical raises, with some police captains due to become among the highest-paid law enforcement officials in the country earning more than $500,000 base salary. The City did not pay the inflated salaries on the basis that they did not agree to the terms that caused such inflation and further that such increases were never funded. The Union subsequently grieved that action, seeking to have an arbitrator enforce the contract as written.
Arbitrator Loretta T. Attardo presided over ten days of witness testimony and after receiving evidence and arguments from both sides, denied the Union’s grievance on several grounds, namely that the City and the Union never came to a shared understanding of the extent of the wage increases to be provided by the contract, that the City never funded the wage increases stated in the contract language the Union sought to enforce, and certain procedural steps designed to protect the taxpayers of the City regarding the approval of financial contract provisions were not followed in this instance.
First and foremost, Arbitrator Attardo agreed with the City’s position that the Union President had added language to the contract affecting the wage increases, and that these changes were never discussed with the City’s bargaining team, the Mayor, or the City Council, before the contract including that language was placed before the City Council for approval in September, 2017. Arbitrator Attardo also found that despite adding this language, neither the Union President nor the Union understood the extent of the increases that the language would provide by its plain meaning. Arbitrator Attardo consequently found that the contract language regarding wage increases could not be enforced against the City as the parties never shared an understanding as to what wage increases would be due under this contract. The City’s bargaining team, and accordingly the City Council, held one understanding, while the Union’s bargaining team apparently held another, so in the absence of a “meeting of the minds” regarding the true amount of the increases, the City would not be bound to follow that language.
In addition to the lack of a shared understanding of the wage increases due over the course of the contract period, Arbitrator Attardo found that the City Council, the legislative body responsible for providing funding for monetary provisions of the contract, never voted to appropriate taxpayer funds sufficient to support the wage increases that would be provided by the contract language in question. Such funding is required by state law for an agreement to be enforceable, and was also required under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement itself. Arbitrator Attardo found that no such funding had been approved by the City Council, and therefore that the City would not be bound by the contract language without such funding.
Finally, with respect to the contract in question going to the City Council for approval in September of 2017, Arbitrator Attardo found that there were several procedural steps, including requirements established by the City Charter that were not met, and that without following those steps, there could be no valid approval of a collective bargaining agreement. These procedural steps were designed, among other things, to provide clarity on the financial impact of changes to collective bargaining agreements. However, the City Council never received any documents outlining the language changes or detailing the financial impacts, as they should have prior to voting to approve the contract, and Arbitrator Attardo accepted the City’s argument that it could not be bound by the contract in question where it had not received or reviewed such documentation.