If your municipality’s contract with its Police Association expires at the end of the year, it is time to plan your approach to collective bargaining.
The relationship between your municipality and its police association is governed by the Policemen and Firemen Collective Bargaining Act, commonly referred to as “Act 111.” Act 111 governs the process by which the employer and association are required to collectively bargain for a new contract. In the event a new contract is not reached, Act 111 requires the dispute to be referred to binding “interest” arbitration, at which time a three-member Board of Arbitrators will resolve the contract dispute. The Board of Arbitrators is comprised of one member appointed by the Police Association and one member appointed by the municipalities (referred to as “partial” arbitrators), and one neutral arbitrator, who is usually appointed from a panel of arbitrators provided by the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”).
Act 111 requires the parties to begin bargaining by July 1st. This means that you should expect your Police Association to request bargaining for a new contract soon.
In the event the parties do not reach an agreement within thirty (30) days after bargaining begins, Act 111 declares the existence of an “impasse,” at which time either party may request interest arbitration. The deadline to request interest arbitration is 110 days before the end of the fiscal year, in this case September 13, 2017. Therefore, you should expect the Police Association to make a demand for arbitration in early September to satisfy this deadline.
The Police Association’s demand for arbitration must identify the name of the partial arbitrator nominated to serve on the Board of Arbitrators on its behalf, together with the Association’s “issues in dispute,” which it intends to present to the Board of Arbitrators for consideration. The Township has only five days to respond to the Association’s arbitration demand. The Township’s response should nominate a partial arbitrator and identify its own issues in dispute. In the event the Township fails to meet the five-day deadline, it may risk losing the opportunity to present its own issues to the Board of Arbitrators.
It is advisable that the Township’s labor counsel be engaged early in the process to ensure that you make strategic decisions before negotiations with the Association commence. Poor planning from the start can have a detrimental impact upon the course of negotiations and the ultimate result, which could be decided by an arbitrator whose award cannot be appealed to a higher authority absent extraordinary circumstances.
While it may be politically prudent to “keep the lawyers out of it” during initial meetings with the Police Association, the municipal decision-makers should consult with labor counsel beforehand to:
- Become familiar with the subjects that will likely be raised during negotiations
- Formulate the municipality’s issues-in-dispute and;
- To advise you on the process of selecting an arbitrator. The selection of an arbitrator should be considered on a case-by-case basis, and is driven by factors such as the issues-in-dispute and the relationship between counsel (from both the association and the municipality) and the arbitrators on the panel proposed by the AAA.
It is not too early to begin preparing for the collective bargaining process. In the Spring, you should begin to review and compile pertinent information for the purpose of establishing bargaining goals.
This information-gathering should include:
- a review of your budget
- overtime costs
- accrued fringe benefit
- health insurance
- pension costs to determine areas of potential cost savings
You should also review your history of prior grievances to evaluate whether the CBA should be revised to address any concerns related to past disputes.
Competent labor counsel can assist a municipality in evaluating additional economic and non-economic concerns by performing an audit of the CBA to identify potential cost savings, ambiguities, departures from customs and norms, and areas that unduly restrict managerial authority.
A thorough audit of the existing CBA, inclusive of the healthcare plan and pension plan, should place a municipality in a stronger position to establish meaningful and realistic bargaining goals. This review should be completed prior to the first bargaining session with the Police Association, e.g., by the start of Summer of 2017 so that your municipality is ready to begin the collective bargaining process upon receipt of the Policy.
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