Arbitrator: City ordinance could not modify firefighters pension plan set forth in cba

Arbitrator Michel Ryan has upheld a grievance filed by IAFF Local 2748 against the City of Warwick, RI. (here)

 The grievance asserted that the City had unilaterally modified the firefighter’s pension plan through passage of a City ordinance creating a two tier plan applicable to new hires.  Arbitrator Ryan initially rejected the City’s claim that the grievance had not been filed in a timely manner, accepting the Union’s explanation that it waited to file the grievance to see if the City would in fact implement the new plan. He noted further that, in any event, the grievance was timely “as a ‘continuing’ violation, which would have the same remedy because nothing actually changed more than 30 days before the grievance was filed.”

On  the merits, he concluded that “There is really no dispute that the two-tier plan under the Amended Ordinance violates the CBA.” He rejected the City’s claim that, as a matter of law, the ordinance superseded the CBA, and noted further that the changes made by the ordinance had been “specifically and repeatedly” rejected during collective bargaining.

He concluded:

     As a general matter, the task of a labor arbitrator is to interpret and apply the collective bargaining agreement. The grievance-arbitration forum is not a court of general jurisdiction, and the expertise and authority of arbitrators do not extend to construing statutes and court precedent. More specifically, the parties here have agreed, in Article XII, §1, that the contractual grievance procedure “involv[es] the interpretation, application or alleged violation of the provisions of this Agreement and/or the rules and regulations of the Fire Department.” This language does not include external law.
     Since the two-tier plan under the Amended Ordinance violates the CBA, we find for the Union on the merits issue. As a remedy, we will order the City to cease any enforcement or implementation of that plan, to comply with the terms Article XIV, and to make whole all affected members of the bargaining unit.

The City representative on the panel dissented.

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