Commonwealth Court says arbitrator overstepped authority in Pittsburgh police officers' case

By Kyla Asbury | Jul 22, 2018

PITTSBURGH — The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania ruled that an arbitrator exceeded her powers and the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas properly vacated an award involving Pittsburgh police officers.

The appeal was before judges Patricia A. McCullough, Michael H. Wojcik and James Gardner Colins. Colins authored the June 21 opinion.

The issue involved a grievance arbitration award that was previously vacated under the collective bargaining agreement (CBG) between the city and the Fraternal Order of Police Fort Pitt Lodge No. 1 (FOP) over how the officers' pay was handled when they were required to work on a day off.

The judges affirmed vacating of the arbitration award, citing that the arbitrator who awarded the grievance award had exceeded her powers while doing so.

The CBA states that officers will work five days and have two consecutive days off each week. When officers were required to go on "call outs," they were guaranteed at least four hours of work or pay, and they would be compensated with the proper overtime wages, according to the opinion.

When the city hosted the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 1, 2016, there were not enough secondary employment volunteers available, and the city was required to call out 70 police officers to work either before their shift or on their days off.

The city then paid the officers who were called in on their day off their overtime rates, but the FOP filed a grievance on May 24, 2016, alleging that the city also needed to pay the officers who were required to come in early for four hours of overtime under the CBA. 

The FOP also alleged that the officers who had to work that day when it was their day off should get a minimum of eight hours of overtime and "a total of 12 hours of overtime if they were required to report before their regular shift," according to the appeal.

The city denied the grievance and an arbitrator held a hearing on the matter on Oct. 3, 2016. She issued an award ruling on Jan. 31, 2017, stating that the officers who were required to work on their day off were entitled to eight hours of overtime, but she denied the arguments that they were entitled to the four extra hours.

The city filed a petition for review and sought to vacate the award because they thought the arbitrator overstepped her powers issuing the award.

"The common pleas court vacated the arbitrator’s award on the ground that it was unsupported by anything in the CBA and 'fashion[ed] the officers’ compensation beyond that which they have collectively bargained to receive,' stating that the arbitrator 'form[ed] a remedy for the Police when no such remedy was provided by the actual language of the agreement.'"

The FOP appealed the common pleas court’s decision to the appeals court, which affirmed the decision.

The court ruled that the arbitrator "created a remedy for loss of a pass day that she acknowledged did not exist in the CBA," according to the opinion.

"Such an addition to the CBA is the function of an interest arbitration and exceeded the arbitrator’s powers in this grievance arbitration," the opinion states.

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