Mid-Year Interest Arbitration Update: Internal Consistency Reigns

Now that we’re done beating you over the head with our investigator nerdery, we’ll start getting back to the other things we love to do.  This week: negotiations and interest arbitration. 

It’s been a slow year for interest arbitrations, with only three cases being reported to the BMS so far.  We’re aware of others taking place this year, but they have not been posted to the website yet.  If your organization has participated in an interest arbitration hearing, make sure to get the award in to the BMS, so that other public employers (and nosy law firms) can see what arbitrators are looking at when they make their awards.  While some arbitrators are predictable, the factors they focus on in delivering awards often change. 

Of the three awards we have to report on, one theme persists: internal consistency will always be the main point of emphasis for arbitrators, unless the parties have bargained for other factors to take priority.

In the City of Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Park Police Federation, the focus was on wages and a contractual market adjustment.  In an interesting turn, the City’s final offer was actually more expensive than the Union’s.  The City proposed a 4% wage adjustment for its officers when the Union was only looking for 2% across-the-board.  The City’s proposal was contingent upon the removal of language granting its officers a market adjustment based on the top pay of comparison cities throughout the metro area.  The language resulted in the officers receiving increases above-and-beyond those received by other union members in the City. 

In finding for the Union’s proposal on wages and market adjustments, Arbitrator Miller stated, “[A]rbitrators are extremely reluctant to unilaterally modify or remove a provision in a collective bargaining agreement unless there are compelling reasons to do so or a satisfactory quid pro quo exists.”  The arbitrator found that the City only recently agreed to the market adjustment language, which required them to look outside the City in determining wage adjustments, but looked internally for its cost of living adjustments. 

Despite the City’s proposal of a 4% COLA in exchange for the removal of the market adjustment language, the arbitrator saw “no reason” to remove the market adjustment language from the contract.  He based this decision on the long history of the parties relying on external wage considerations.  Furthermore, the arbitrator found the City’s offer to be an unsatisfactory quid pro quo, as it would have resulted in a 0% COLA for the employees in 2019.  The arbitrator awarded the Union’s proposal on both COLA and wage adjustment, because its end result was consistent with internal wage increases throughout the City. 

In Ramsey County and LELS, Local 423, the Deputy Sheriff Sergeants of the County sought several increases following a change in bargaining unit representative.  As you sometimes see, successor bargaining unit representatives wind up in interest arbitration due to the fact they have something to prove to their new group.  In this case, the union sought 1% more than what the County was offering, despite 22 of the 23 bargaining units settling with the County prior to arbitration, with the pattern being set at 2.5%.  You won’t often see a more consistent internal pattern than that.

In arriving at a 2%/1% mid-year split for each year of the contract, Arbitrator Miller noted the mid-year split was negotiated by both the County’s deputies and emergency communication center supervisors, and amounted to a 2.5% increase in each year.  While employers know that this type of increase results in higher costs during years following the initial adjustment, the fact that the arbitrator relied on internal consistency for his award is comforting. 

The same held true for the Union’s proposal for a market adjustment.  No other group in the county received a market adjustment for any year of the agreed-upon contract term, yet the Union sought additional compensation for its members.  And while the union made some creative arguments in support of its proposal, the arbitrator held the line on maintaining internal consistency, and found for the County. 

Finally, in City of Rogers and Teamsters Local 320, the parties agreed to the internal wage pattern prior to getting to arbitration, but the parties remained opposed regarding market adjustments for their officers.  In his award, Arbitrator Miller found that the only other bargaining unit in the City, the Sergeants, received a market adjustment in 2018 – the first year of their contract.  Because of this, it was internally consistent to award the officers a similar market adjustment.  On all other issues, the arbitrator awarded the internal pattern.  

Internal pattern remains the driving force behind many interest arbitration awards.  However, there are unique situations that warrant deviation from the internal pattern and may need special attention if you are headed into interest arbitration.  If you or your organization need assistance with assessing your issues at the bargaining table or in interest arbitration, contact the Wiley Law Office, for bargaining assistance that works.