JAMESTOWN – The city of Jamestown will move forward and take its ongoing arbitration battle with its police union to the state’s highest court.
During a recent interview with WRFA, Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist confirmed that the city has decided to move its appeal of a 2018 split decision Compulsory Interest Arbitration Ruling to the New York State Court of Appeals.
The 2018 arbitration ruling involved the collective bargaining agreement between the city and the Jamestown Kendell Club police union. Among other things, the ruling called for officers in the union to receive a retroactive 2% salary increase for both 2016 and 2017.
Upon its release, city officials – led at the time by former mayor Sam Teresi – felt the arbitration ruling failed to take into full consideration the financial challenges facing Jamestown. State law indicated that the Arbitration Panel was to place a 70% weighting factor on the city’s financial position and ability to pay for any increase in salary. The city contends the arbitrators didn’t place enough focus on that aspect of state law when ruling in favor of a pay raise for the union members.
Sundquist said the city notified the police union this week that it would seek a judgement from the state’s highest court. He added that such action would require approval to do so from the court.
“If it wasn’t a unanimous decision, we would be able to appeal by right, which means the Court of Appeals would take that case and hear it,” explained Sundquist. “Since that is not the case. Since we had a concurring decision from the Appellate Division, we will have to ask permission from the Court of Appeals to hear that case, as it’s a portion of the law that may not have been yet interpreted. There is always the risk that the Court of Appeals may not want to take the case, so we are kind of going with that process to see if they will accept it.”
Sundquist also said that last year the city council approved a resolution to challenge the local Supreme Court ruling on the matter, and that resolution included taking the case to the Court of Appeals if it was not overturned in the Appellate Division. As a result, no additional legislative action is required by the city council because no new costs are being added.
The mayor also said that in the meantime, the city is continuing to negotiate with the union.
“We are still working actively with the police union to try to negotiate a deal and try to come to an understanding, as we have many years left with that contract that are still un-negotiated. So even though we are actively moving forward with that court case, we are are still actively trying to resolve this issue at the same time,” Sundquist said.
If the arbitration decision stands, the city will have to pay an estimated $800,000 in back wages to the members of the union during the time period that is covered. In addition, a similar back payment would also likely have to be made to the fire fighters union, which also never settled a contract for 2016 and 2017, but opted to wait until the police arbitration case plays out before possibly pursuing their own arbitration case.
The Albany-based law firm of Bond, Schoeneck & King is representing the city in the legal dispute, while the Jamestown law firm of Fessenden, Laumer & DeAngelo is representing the police union. The cost of the court proceedings for the city – including taking it to the State Court of Appeals – has totaled $50,000.
The complete interview with mayor Sundquist – which covers a variety of topics and issues – will be broadcast on WRFA this Thursday at 5 p.m. on our Community Matters program.