Year-End Interest Arbitration Update: Arbitrators Seek Consistency

Not much happened at the beginning of the year in regard to interest arbitration, but during the last six months of the year, the Bureau of Mediation Services reported eight arbitrations involving six different jurisdictions and six different unions.  And while the issues varied from hearing to hearing, wage adjustments remained low for both 2019 and 2020.  On top of this, arbitrators held the line on changes to other benefits, recognizing internal consistency amongst bargaining units was the most important factor issuing their awards. 

Hennepin County went to interest arbitration with both its Corrections Officers and their supervisors, with very different results.  In Hennepin County and Teamsters Local 320, the Corrections Officers actually agreed to range increases of 2.5%, 2.5% and 2.0% for contract years 2019-2021.  However, the parties disagreed on the wage progression percentage granted to employees moving through their range.  The County was at the end of its push to limit range progression to 3% for all bargaining units, and had secured agreements with 13 of 15 of its bargaining units to do so, while the union hoped to maintain 5% steps through the range.  In the end, the County’s pattern of settlement with its other groups of 3% range movement won the day.  The union sought changes to both seniority, shift differential, paid time off and uniform allowance, but was not able to establish any need or consistency with other units.  As such, it was unsuccessful. 

In Hennepin County and Hennepin County Supervisors Association, Arbitrator Laumeyer found that the Detention Sergeants seeking a market adjustment did not qualify for such an adjustment under the employer-created formula for providing for such adjustments.  However, the arbitrator noted disparate treatment between the Chief Deputy and Majors within the Sheriff’s department, and that the County had previously mirrored increases for Detention Sergeants to other classes at the same level within the County’s organizational chart.  Because of this, the Arbitrator awarded an additional 5% market adjustment. 

In Mille Lacs County and Teamsters Local 320, the parties again agreed to the internal pattern for wages, but were at odds over a market adjustment, holiday pay, compensatory time bank limits, shift differential pay and FTO pay.  In his award, Arbitrator Abelson found that the Corrections Officers had a “sister unit,” a Deputy unit, with which the Corrections Officers remained in lockstep in regard to pay and benefits.  As the Deputies did not receive a market adjustment, neither did the Corrections Officers. 

Arbitrator Abelson also awarded the same shift differential and FTO pay as received by the Deputy group, and refused to increase holiday pay, as it would have created an internal disparity. 

Carlton County arbitrated wages with both its Deputy and Supervisory groups.  The matters were somewhat complicated due to the County granting additional wage increases for bargaining units within the county who agreed to sunset their retiree health insurance provisions.  Both groups refused to get rid of the retiree health insurance benefits, so both parties were granted the same wage increases for 2019 and 2020 as every other group who refused to get rid of the language. 

In Itasca County and Itasca County Employees’ Association the County was awarded its position on nine of 10 issues, based on settlements from 10 of 12 groups.  The only issue not awarded fully in the County’s favor was duration – which the parties stipulated to prior to the hearing. 

Finally, the City of Champlin and LELS Police Officers arbitrated over nine separate issues – not one of them included wages.  Arbitrator Bauman found that for seven of the different issues, the union failed to show the need to increase or change the benefits already provided.  In the final two issues, Injury on Duty and Parenting leave, the arbitrator found that the benefits were already provided in the CBA for the City’s sergeants, and awarded the changes based on that. 

In general, arbitrators held to strict internal consistency arguments, and for the most part refused to deviate from that position.  Unions rarely gained anything above and beyond the patterns already established within organizations.  Because of this, employers should feel more comfortable holding the line in contract negotiations, and staying true to their patterns. 

If you or your organization need assistance in contract negotiation or interest arbitration, contact the Wiley Law Office, for contract management advice that works. 

Year-End 2019 Average Wage Adjustment: 2.43%

Year-End 2020 Average Wage Adjustment: 2.58%