Supreme Judicial Court Upholds Arbitrator’s Decision, Orders Lynn to Pay Union

In a unanimous decision issued January 6, 2010, the state’s highest court has ruled in favor of the Lynn Police Association, MCOP Local 302 (“union”) in a contractual dispute with the City of Lynn (“City”). As a result of the ruling, the City will have to pay union members $277,000 in back pay and benefits. The union was represented by John M. Becker of Sandulli Grace, P.C.

The dispute arose after the City came to the union during a 2003 fiscal crisis and asked for union members to make nearly $300,000 in concessions. Even though the union had an enforceable collective bargaining agreement and could have refused to give up any negotiated benefits, it agreed to make the concessions (and avoid threatened layoffs). The union, assisted by Susan F. Horwitz, of Sandulli Grace, P.C., only agreed to the concessions on the condition that, if the City obtained additional federal or state funds, those funds would be used to pay back the benefits that the union members had sacrificed.

Several months after the concession agreement took effect, the Lynn Police Department obtained a $277,000 community policing grant. When the union demanded that the funds be used to pay back the concessions according to their agreement, the City refused. The union filed a grievance, which proceeded to arbitration. The arbitrator found that the grant triggered the agreement’s conditional language and ordered the City to pay the funds to the union.

Instead of complying with the arbitrator’s award, the City appealed the decision to the Superior Court, which ruled in the union’s favor, and then to the Appeals Court, which also upheld the arbitrator. Finally, the City appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court. As it did in the lower courts, the City argued to the court that it could not comply with the arbitrator’s award because making the required payment would force it to violate the Lynn Bailout Law, chapter eight of the Acts of 1985. The Lynn Bailout Law, which arose from a prior fiscal crisis, sets up stringent requirements for spending on personnel expenses by city officials. But, the SJC noted, it applies only to regular budgets and appropriations, not to monies, such as grants, that are over and above the amounts appropriated in the budget. Because the arbitrator’s award applies only to grant funds, the SJC held, complying with the award does not require the City to violate the Lynn Bailout Law.

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