On June 23, 2009, the Appellate Division decided New Jersey Transit Corporation v. P.B.A. Local 304, Docket No.: A-3341-07T3. In the case, PBA Local 304 (“PBA”) appealed from an order of the Chancery Division, General Equity Part, overturning an arbitration award that declared that New Jersey Transit (“NJT”) police officers who are transferred involuntarily by the Chief of Police are entitled to additional pay for travel time. The court held that the arbitrator’s decision violated public policy because it restricted the chief’s authority to reassign officers, thereby limiting his ability to enhance operational awareness and public safety.

This matter concerned the arbitrator’s interpretation of Article XXIII, Section 6 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The article provides in relevant part:

(a) A temporary position may, at the discretion of the Chief of Police, be assigned to an officer for a period not to exceed 30 calendar days.

(b) After a 30 calendar day period or less, the assigned officer will then be reassigned to his original position, and a second officer may then be assigned, then the third, etc.

On March 1, 2005, the NJT Chief of Police issued orders temporarily assigning two police officers to each other’s regular assignments for a period of twenty-eight calendar days. Specifically, Officer Trumble was transferred from his position in Hoboken, and assigned to Officer Sepe’s position in Newark, while Officer Sepe was assigned to Officer Trumble’s Hoboken position. The assignment orders were effective from March 5, 2005 until April 1, 2005.

On March 22, 2005, the PBA filed a grievance, alleging that the assignments constituted an “involuntary tour swap,” because the affected orders were required to change their bid work location (regular assignment) and to work each other’s bid position. On May 9, 2006, the matter was submitted to arbitration. The parties framed the issue thusly: “Was the effectuation of personnel orders P 05-047 and/or P 05-048 in violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement?”

At arbitration, the PBA argued that the assignments are limited under the Article to positions that are open or vacant, and not to those positions that are already filled by officers who had been awarded those positions. NJT argued that, except for certain time limitations, the Article does not limit the Chief’s discretionary authority to assign temporary positions.

 

The arbitrator ruled in favor of the PBA, and directed that the officers be compensated for having their work location changed. The award did not include a specific amount of compensation. The matter proceeded to Superior Court by way of the PBA’s action to confirm. NJT sought to vacate the award. Initially, the trial court confirmed the arbitration, determining that the arbitrator’s decision was reasonably debatable. On an order to show cause for reconsideration, the court reversed itself, determining that the award violated public policy by severely restricting the Chief’s statutory responsibility to promote and provide for public safety.  This appeal ensued. 

After reviewing the record and considering prevailing legal standards, the Appellate Division reversed. The Court was satisfied that the arbitrator’s interpretation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement was reasonable and, therefore, entitled to deferential treatment. According to the Court, the arbitrator merely found, from an interpretation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, that officers who are involuntarily reassigned from certain positions are entitled to compensation. The issue was about compensation, not the authority of the Chief to reassign officers as he sees fit. Since the arbitrator’s decision was based on a reasonable, although albeit fairly debatable interpretation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Court was compelled to uphold it.

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Photo of Donald C. Barbati Donald C. Barbati

Donald C. Barbati is a shareholder of Crivelli, Barbati & DeRose, L.L.C. His primary practice revolves around the representation of numerous public employee labor unions in various capacities to include contract negotiation, unfair labor practice litigation, contract grievance arbitration, and other diverse issues…

Donald C. Barbati is a shareholder of Crivelli, Barbati & DeRose, L.L.C. His primary practice revolves around the representation of numerous public employee labor unions in various capacities to include contract negotiation, unfair labor practice litigation, contract grievance arbitration, and other diverse issues litigated before the courts and administrative tribunals throughout the State of New Jersey. In addition, Mr. Barbati also routinely represents individuals in various types of public pension appeals, real estate transactions, and general litigation matters. He is a frequent contributor to the New Jersey Public Safety Officers Law Blog, a free legal publication designed to keep New Jersey public safety officers up-to-date and informed about legal issues pertinent to their profession. During his years of practice, Mr. Barbati has established a reputation for achieving favorable results for his clients in a cost-efficient manner.

Mr. Barbati has also handled numerous novel legal issues while representing New Jersey Public Safety Officers. Most notably, he served as lead counsel for the Appellants in the published case In re Rodriguez, 423 N.J. Super. 440 (App. Div. 2011). In that case, Mr. Barbati successfully argued on behalf of the Appellants, thereby overturning the Attorney General’s denial of counsel to two prison guards in a civil rights suit arising from an inmate assault. In the process, the Court clarified the standard to be utilized by the Attorney General in assessing whether a public employee is entitled to legal representation and mandated that reliance must be placed on up-to-date information.

Prior to becoming a practicing attorney, Mr. Barbati served as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Linda R. Feinberg, Assignment Judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Mercer Vicinage. During his clerkship Mr. Barbati handled numerous complex and novel substantive and procedural issues arising from complaints in lieu of prerogative writs, orders to show cause, and motion practice. These include appeals from decisions by planning and zoning boards and local government bodies, bidding challenges under the Local Public Contract Law, Open Public Records Act requests, the taking of private property under the eminent domain statute, and election law disputes. In addition, Mr. Barbati, as a certified mediator, mediated many small claims disputes in the Special Civil Part.

Mr. Barbati received a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, magna cum laude, from Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Upon graduating, Mr. Barbati attended Widener University School of Law in Wilmington, Delaware. In 2007, he received his juris doctorate, magna cum laude, graduating in the top five percent of his class. During law school, Mr. Barbati interned for the Honorable Joseph E. Irenas, Senior United States District Court Judge for the District of New Jersey in Camden, New Jersey, assisting on various constitutional, employment, and Third Circuit Court of Appeals litigation, including numerous civil rights, social security, and immigration cases.