Hennepin County Prevails in Interest Arbitration with Social Workers Supervisory Ass’n

The County’s Professional Social Work Supervisory Employees Association commenced interest arbitration on wages increases for 2012 and 2013, step increases for those years, on call pay, and reimbursement for professional licenses.  The association sought 5% increase in wages for both years, and reinstatement of step increases (which had been suspended) both years,  on call pay, reimbursement for licenses, and retroactivity of the award.  The thrust of the union argument was that the employee’s position had changed such that they had increased responsibilities, time commitments, and workload.  The employees also argued that the county’s adoption of flexible work hours and decentralization of work (through its Results Oriented Work Environment (“ROWE”) led to increased travel time and difficulty in supervision of employees.

Hennepin County sought no wage increases or step increases for 2012,  but payment of a $500 lump sum.  For 2013, the county proposed an option of either a 1.5% increase in wages and step increases, or a flat 2.5% wage increase without step increases.    The county’s proposal was based on its internal settlement pattern, which had been adopted by  98% of its workforce, and demonstrated budget pressures.   The county showed that there had been virtually no deviation from its internal settlement pattern for 10 years.  Moreover, the county argued that it should not be required to use reserves to pay wages, and it had good employee retention with this group of employees.  Significantly, the employer showed that there had been no arbitration awards during the relevant timeframe in which employees received 5% increases—the norm was between 0% and 2%.  The employer also argued that arbitration is an improper forum to seek job reclassification, particularly in light of a state statute governing that process.

On February 11, 2013 Arbitrator George Latimer rendered his award in favor of Hennepin County.  The arbitrator determined that “the Union proposed changes would de facto constitute a reclassification,” which was inappropriate to determine in arbitration.  “The fact that the requested wage increase is prompted by additional job duties and tasks, leads this Arbitrator to rule in favor of the County’s position on wages.”   The arbitrator also gave significant weight to internal comparisons.    The arbitrator also determined that there would be no step increases for 2012, no change in on call pay, no reimbursement for professional licenses based on “[t]he history and pattern set by the Employer.”

http://www.bms.state.mn.us/documents/awards/20130211%20Hennepin.pdf

Attorney Wiley has also successfully argued that employee classification is not arbitrable, and that an employer’s internal settlement pattern should be carry significant weight.