Almost Mid-Year Interest Arbitration Update: Where Will Things Stand When We Get Back to Work?

Judging by the updates on the BMS website, there has been very little activity in the realm of arbitration over the last two months.  With employees working from home and limitations on group gatherings, the majority of the hearings scheduled to take place over the last two months have been put on hold.  One nice thing to know about the grievances that were sitting on your desk prior to the stay at home orders: they haven’t gone anywhere!  They are waiting for labor practitioners to wrap up as soon as we are able to meet again, and it’s important to be prepared for those hearings when they occur.

With that in mind, we thought we would bring you an update on all of the reported interest arbitration results from first third of the year, so you’ll have a great understanding of where you should be when negotiating or arbitrating with your essential bargaining units.

We already discussed the two of the reported interest arbitration awards from this year because we represented one of the parties in each.  Sherburne County had two separate interest arbitrations over discrete matters mostly relevant to Sherburne County.  In the first with the Sherburne County correctional officers, the County was able to avoid paying additional wages to employees who were being “leapfrogged” by less senior employees, and the union was awarded the internal pattern.

In the second hearing, the union representing the Transport and Court Security Deputies requested wages on par with the average pay for Patrol Deputies across the 12-county metro area, and had that request denied, after a finding that the Officers were not performing Patrol Deputy work.  Again, the union was awarded a pattern package with a 2.5% wage increase for 2019-2020.

In Steele County and Teamsters, Local 320, the issue to be resolved was whether language requiring employees to have satisfactory work performance in order to be eligible for step increases would be added to the contract.  The County proposed this change in exchange for which general increases of 2.75% in 2019 and 3.0% in 2020.  All other bargaining units accepted the quid pro quo and negotiated for the requested language.  In finding for the County, Arbitrator Laumeyer found that the County’s proposal was meant to establish work standards, and not to renege on financial promises or commitments.

In Hennepin County and Hennepin County Sheriff’s Deputies Association, the primary issue for the arbitrator’s consideration was the union’s proposal market adjustments of 4.0% in 2019, 3.5% in 2020, and 3.0% in 2021.  While the County argued that its proposed general adjustments of 2.5% for each year were consistent with the rest of the units in the County, the arbitrator found that, through bargaining and/or arbitration awards, other groups within the Sheriff’s Department were awarded significant market adjustments.   Because of the internal market adjustments within the department, as well as a change in contract language proposed by the County with regard to paid time off and a reduction in step movement from 5% to 3% per step, the Union’s wage adjustment position for 2019 was awarded, and the deputies received a 6.5% wage adjustment, in total.

The lone remaining (posted) interest arbitration award came from the City of Eden Prairie, where after years of being the top-paid police officers in the state, employees decided they’d had enough and unionized.  Unfortunately, the parties were unable to settle their first contract and required the assistance of an arbitrator remaining issues, including union security, employer authority, grievance language, overtime, seniority, annual leave and holidays, and duration.

In resolving the disagreements, the Arbitrator Abelsen sided mostly with the union, which made several language proposals that mirrored those contained in the agreement with the only other bargaining unit in the City.  Beyond that, the arbitrator allowed the union’s seniority language into the contract, as it was already built into an employer policy in place before the group decided to unionize.

Barring, any quid pro quos or internal market adjustments, the interest arbitration awards have been fairly consistent for both 2019 and 2020.  What will be of interest going forward is the different positions employers have to take after the passing of the Coronvirus, whenever that may be.  One can only speculate on the damage the virus has taken on the local economies as well as employers’ abilities to pay what once were considered standard cost-of-living adjustments. It is already affecting the State of Minnesota employees, as there is a debate amongst legislators about whether to ratify proposed increases.  Moreover, you can sure enough bet that unions and some employers will be seeking language related to employee and citizen safety post-pandemic. If you, or your organization, need assistance in planning your proposals, or negotiating your expiring collective bargaining agreements, contact the Wiley Law Office, for negotiations advice that works.

Average 2020 wage adjustment for 2019: 3.56%

Average 2020 wage adjustment for 2020: 2.62%

Average 2020 wage adjustment for 2021: 2.33%

Don’t see your award discussed?  Forward it to, to see it featured in a future interest arbitration summary on the Wiley Law Blog!