SJC Reverses Yet Another Union Victory, Ruling That Arbitrators Cannot Award Promotion to Veterans’ Services Director

Continuing its relative and seemingly endless streak of anti-union arbitration decisions, the state’s highest appellate court reversed an arbitrator’s promotion of a bargaining unit employee. In Somerville v. Somerville Municipal Employees Association, SJC-10089 (May 22, 2008) (, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that an arbitrator exceeded his authority when he ordered that the City of Somerville appoint a union employee to the position of Director of Veterans’ Services. The relevant collective bargaining agreement provided a promotional preference to the most senior unit employee, so long as no other candidate (either union or non-union) was significantly more qualified. Instead of following the contract, the Mayor promoted a non-union member who was no more qualified than the most senior union employee. The arbitrator upheld the union’s grievance and ordered the City to appoint a particular union employee. The Superior Court and the Appeals Court upheld the arbitrator’s decision. (Our blog entry on the fleeting Appeals Court victory is here:

The SJC reversed. Thankfully, the SJC’s decision relies principally on the peculiar language of a statute applicable exclusively to Director of Veterans’ Services, G. L. c.115, § 10, rather than any broad principle of managerial rights. The statute states that the Director “shall be a veteran and shall be appointed in a city by the mayor, with the approval of the city council.” The SJC interpreted this statute as providing the mayor with an unambiguous right to appoint the director. The Court declined to interpret the collective bargaining agreement’s union preference as similar to “procedural” or “ancillary” union contract terms, which courts have generally permitted to be enforced.

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