Appeals Court Affirms Nondelegable Authority of Police Chiefs

Last week, the Appeals Court issued a decision in City of New Bedford v. New Bedford Police Union (97 Mass. App. Ct. 502) affirming a Superior Court’s decision vacating an arbitration award that found the City of New Bedford (“City”) violated the parties’ collective bargaining agreement with the New Bedford Police Union (“Union”) “when it assigned officers to perform background investigations during their normal work hours in addition to their typical duties.”

The Union filed a grievance alleging that the Chief was assigning officers to perform background checks of employment applicants in addition to their regular duties during working hours in violation of the parties’ CBA. The agreement contained a requirement that officers must be assigned full time to performing background checks, as well as several other provisions related to performing these checks. The City denied the grievance arguing that the parties’ CBA did not preclude the Chief from assigning investigations to officers as part of their required duties. The matter proceeded to arbitration.

The arbitrator issued an award in favor of the Union, finding a violation of the CBA. The arbitrator found that the swift completion of background checks was the only public safety concern implicated and therefore that the Chief was required to make assignments in accordance with the agreement. The arbitrator rejected the Chief’s view as to how best to serve the City’s public safety needs, opining instead that the City was simply attempting to avoid overtime payments to officers.

The City filed a complaint in Superior Court, and a Superior Court judge vacated the award on the grounds that “the arbitrator exceeded his authority by substituting his judgment and decision making for that of the police chief.”

On appeal, the Union argued that the grievance did not concern the assignment of background investigations, but rather the method of effectuating the assignments and therefore the City was required to follow the terms of the CBA. The Appeals Court disagreed with the Union’s argument and held that the assignment of officers was “neither subject to collective bargaining, nor delegable to arbitration.” The Appeals Court found that “controlling precedent” required the finding that the provision in the collective bargaining agreement infringed upon the nondelegable authority of the Police Chief. The Court also held that under Massachusetts law, a municipality cannot be required to surrender this nondelegable authority or do so voluntarily.

If you have questions regarding the content of this update, or any other questions regarding labor and employment law generally, please contact us.

This update is provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.