We often talk about Minnesota labor law without giving much regard to the other states, but an award from a state arbitrator in Connecticut was so intriguing, we could not pass up sharing it with you.
The Connecticut State Police Union had been working under an expired collective bargaining agreement since 2018. After negotiations proved unsuccessful, the parties proceeded to interest arbitration, where the arbitrator awarded a 6.5% wage increase over a three-year contract, a 30-minute paid lunch break for all troopers, and some astounding language changes that limits the transparency of the agency in regard to data request. The new language requires a court order to obtain personal data on employees and makes personnel files and internal affairs reports exempt from disclosure if the allegations against the employee are classified as “unfounded.”
The language allows for less information to be released than the state’s Freedom of Information Act requires, but a law in Connecticut actually allows parties to a collective bargaining agreement to exempt themselves from the requirements of the Act, as long as both parties agree. As expected, police watchdog groups are up in arms about the language, given the desire for more transparency from public entities, especially in law enforcement.
Those in Minnesota with some knowledge of the Government Data Practices Act may think that the limitations on the release of data are no big deal, however. In Minnesota, all data regarding investigations remains private until the discipline arising from that investigation is in final disposition, so many investigations that result in no discipline never see the light of day, even if it is determined that there was some form of misconduct.
That said, what is shocking to us is that not only is there a law out there that allows parties to exempt themselves from a general law (Connecticut is the exception, not the rule, here), but that an arbitrator found the need for the contract to supersede state law so compelling that he awarded it in an interest arbitration.
The lesson here is that once you venture outside the realm of negotiation and mediation, there are no more sure things. You may feel you have the most unimpeachable position when headed into arbitration, but you never know what factors might swing an arbitrator from finding for you to awarding every single proposal of the opposition. There are times when arbitration is the only resolution for parties who cannot find common ground, but you need to be sure you can live with the consequences of a bad award. If you or your organization need assistance in assessing your bargaining position during negotiations, or headed into arbitration, contact the Wiley Law Office, for negotiations experience that works.