Court Vacates Camden Arbitration Award

Camden Firefighters, IAFF Local 788 suffered a setback today when a New Jersey Appellate Division Court vacated an interest arbitration ruling that granted them modest pay raises in four of the five years covered by the award. The problem: the arbitrator concluded that while the city could not afford the raises, the state would have to step to the plate.

Camden has had financial trouble for quite some time. According to the decision, the state has been providing the city with “extraordinary payments of State aid” for over 10 years, although the amount of state aid had been decreasing.

When the union and the city could not agree on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) to replace the one that expired on December 31, 2008, the matter was submitted to binding arbitration pursuant to the Police and Fire Public Interest Arbitration Reform Act. In the court’s own words:

“The resulting arbitration award provided for salary increases for the firefighters which, it is undisputed, the City cannot pay from its own tax base. Stated briefly, the arbitrator’s means of accommodating that obstacle was to call the State of New Jersey a “fourth party” to the arbitration and conclude that the State is required to pay the shortfall.”

The award included wage increases of 2.5% on January 1, 2009; 2.0% on January 1, 2010; 2.0% on January 1, 2011; and 2.0% on January 1, 2012. It was issued on August 14, 2011.

The city appealed the award to the NJ Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC), who affirmed the arbitrator. The city then appealed to the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court. Again, in the court’s own words:

“The City contends that the arbitrator exceeded his authority by stating the State was a “fourth party” to the arbitration and by concluding the State must fund the City’s Fire Department budget, including salary increases. As a result, the City argues, PERC’s decision to affirm the award was arbitrary and capricious. We agree.”

The court also concluded that the arbitrator in ruling the way he did, “violated his duty of impartiality”, and agreed with the city that a new arbitrator should be assigned to hear the case.

Here is a copy of the decision handed down on Tuesday, January 29, 2013.   a1244-11

Here is more on the ruling.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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