NEPBA Wins Case in Front of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
From the desk of Executive Secretary Bill Ryan
After the New England Police Benevolent Association, Inc., Local 192 (NEPBA), replaced the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 25 (Local 25), as the exclusive bargaining representative for the emergency dispatchers in the city of Chelsea (City), the NEPBA sought to arbitrate a grievance regarding the termination of a dispatcher that occurred following the change in union representation. The NEPBA and the city had not yet bargained to a new contract at the time of the termination, but employees had been working pursuant to the terms and conditions of the city’s prior collective bargaining agreement with Local 25, which contained an arbitration provision.
The Parties submitted to an arbitrator the question whether the dispute was arbitrable. The arbitrator ruled that it was. The city then appealed from a Superior Court order confirming the arbitrator’s decision. While the city’s appeal was pending in front of the Massachusetts Appeals court, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (MA SJC), on its own initiative, transferred the case from the Appeals court. On January 6, 2023 the Parties conducted oral arguments in front of the MA SJC, with attorney Thomas Horgan representing the NEPBA. On March 8, 2023 the MA SJC issued their decision finding in favor of NEPBA on all contested issues.
The MA SJC determined that there were three interrelated issues that needed to be resolved. First, they looked at whether the issue in dispute (the employee discharge) was covered by the arbitration provision from the collective bargaining agreement? Second, they considered whether the agreement with the predecessor union had expired or whether it had been extended by the parties? After determining that the answer to these first two questions was “Yes”, the Court then looked at what, if any, effect the change in union representation would have on a CBA, that also contained an arbitration provision, both of which were properly extended beyond a three-term pursuant to the terms of the Parties CBA.
The MA SJC determined that the dispute at issue was arbitrable because (1) the dispute clearly would have been covered by the broad arbitration provision negotiated by the city and the prior union, if the contract with the city had remained in effect; (2) that the arbitrator, acted within her authority when she found that the contract was extended by the city according to the terms of the contract, and the Court deferred to the arbitrator’s contractual interpretation on this issue; and (3) that the labor relations act entitles a successor union to “step into the shoes of its predecessor” and enforce an arbitration provision in a collective bargaining agreement negotiated by its predecessor expanding on the prior MA Appeals Court decision from 2005 in Watertown v. Watertown Mun. Employees Ass’n, 63 Mass. App.Ct. 285, 291 (2005).
Attorney Thomas Horgan represented the NEPBA in this matter.