As reported in the New Jersey Law Journal, Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association Local 67 (FMBA #67), filed a grievance against the Borough of Carteret in regard to a staffing issue that the parties had agreed to which was subsequently retracted by the Borough. The case was taken to an arbitration hearing and the arbitrator ruled in favor of the union. Thereafter, the Borough appealed the decision to the Chancery Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey, who affirmed the Arbitrator’s decision. Notwithstanding the Chancery Decision affirming the arbitrator’s decision, the Borough again appealed the decision to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey, who reversed the Chancery Court’s decision, finding that the Arbitrator “erred” stating that, “the CSC’s job descriptions for firefighters and fire lieutenants created ambiguity as to the applicability of the CBA” and thus the arbitrator was incorrect in his interpretation of the same. However, the case did not end there as FMBA #67 filed a Petition for Certiorari with the New Jersey Supreme Court who agreed to hear the matter on appeal.

In another turn of events, the Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Division’s judgment, and found that the arbitrator’s ruling was actually supported by a plausible interpretation of the collectively negotiated agreement (“CNA”) and therefore satisfied the “reasonably debatable” standard.

In summary the Court held as follows:

1. An arbitrator’s award resolving a public sector dispute will be accepted so long as it is “reasonably debatable.” Under that standard, a court may not substitute its judgment for that of the arbitrator, regardless of the court’s view of the correctness of the arbitrator’s position. If two or more interpretations of a labor agreement could be plausibly argued, the outcome is at least reasonably debatable.

2. The arbitrator’s award in this matter was supported by a plausible interpretation of the CNA and therefore satisfies the “reasonably debatable” standard. In reversing the arbitrator’s award, the Appellate Division incorrectly substituted its own judgment and did not afford proper deference to the arbitrator’s interpretation of the CNA.

The Court found that both the FMBA and Borough’s interpretation of the CNA was plausible and the arbitrator sided with the FMBA. The inquiry on appeal is not whether the appellate court has a better interpretation of the agreement. It is the arbitrator’s interpretation of the CNA that the parties bargained for here and, thus, the decision should not have been disturbed.

While the standard adopted by the New Jersey Supreme Court has always been the “gold” standard for Court’s reviewing grievance arbitration awards, it is beneficial for everyone to have a firm understanding that the New Jersey Supreme Court has once again put its stamp of approval on how arbitrations awards should be reviewed at the appellate level in the State of New Jersey.

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Photo of Frank M. Crivelli Frank M. Crivelli

Frank M. Crivelli’s practice revolves around the representation of over eighty-five (85) labor unions in various capacities, the majority of which bargain for law enforcement entities. He is proud to be called on a daily basis to provide counsel to over 12,000 state…

Frank M. Crivelli’s practice revolves around the representation of over eighty-five (85) labor unions in various capacities, the majority of which bargain for law enforcement entities. He is proud to be called on a daily basis to provide counsel to over 12,000 state, county and local law enforcement officers, firefighters and EMS workers.

Mr. Crivelli specializes his individual practice in collective negotiations.  Over the past twenty (20) years, Mr. Crivelli has negotiated well over one hundred (100) collective bargaining agreements for various state, county, municipal and private organizations and has resolved over thirty-five (35) labor agreements that have reached impasse through compulsory interest arbitration.  Mr. Crivelli routinely litigates matters in front of the New Jersey State Public Employment Relations Commission, the New Jersey Office of Administrative Law, third party neutrals for mediation, grievance and interest arbitration, the Superior Court of New Jersey and the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Mr. Crivelli founded and created the New Jersey Public Safety Officers Law Blog ( approximately fifteen (15) years ago where he and members of his firm routinely publish blog posts regarding legal issues related to the employment of New Jersey Public Safety Officers.  The blog now contains over six hundred (600) articles and is reviewed and relied upon by thousands of public employees.  Mr. Crivelli has also published books and manuals pertaining to New Jersey Public Employee Disability Pension Appeals and the New Jersey Worker’s Compensation System. Currently, he is drafting a publication on how to Prepare and Negotiate a Collective Bargaining Agreement.  He lectures annually at the New Jersey State PBA Collective Bargaining Seminar, the National Association of Police Organization’s Legal Seminar, the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission Seminar on Public Employment Labor Law, the United States Marine Corps’ Commander’s Media Training Symposium and to Union Executive Boards and General Membership bodies on various labor related topics.

Prior to entering private practice, Mr. Crivelli joined the United States Marine Corps where he served as a Judge Advocate with the Legal Services Support Section of the First Force Services Support Group in Camp Pendleton, California.  While serving in the Marine Corps, Mr. Crivelli defended and prosecuted hundreds of Special and General Court Martial cases and administrative separation matters.  In addition to his trial duties, Mr. Crivelli was also charged with the responsibility of training various Marine and Naval combat command elements on the interpretation and implementation of the rules of engagement for various military conflicts that were ongoing throughout the world at that time. After leaving active duty, Mr. Crivelli remained in the Marine Corps Reserves where he was promoted to the rank of Major before leaving the service.

For the past fifteen (15) years, Mr. Crivelli has been certified as a Civil Trial Attorney by the Supreme Court for the State of New Jersey, a certification which less than two percent (2%) of the attorneys in New Jersey have achieved.  He is a graduate of Washington College (B.A.), the City University of New York School of Law (J.D.), the United States Naval Justice School, and the Harvard Law School Program on Negotiation.