The Arbitration of Grievances of Police Officers and Fire Fighters

By LaVan, Helen; Katz, Marsha et al. | Public Personnel Management, Fall 1993 | Go to article overview

The Arbitration of Grievances of Police Officers and Fire Fighters


LaVan, Helen, Katz, Marsha, Carley, Cameron, Public Personnel Management


The nature of the work of police officers is distinctive. As such it can lead to distinctive aspects in the unionization, the collective bargaining and the arbitration processes. The nature of this distinctiveness as it relates to collective bargaining by police and to arbitration of police grievances is the focal point of this paper.

Impact of Arbitration on Collective Negotiations

Undue administrative influence, arbitration benevolence, excessive arbitration authority, and dependence on arbitration to the exclusion of other dispute resolution mechanisms are ways in which arbitration can impact on collective negotiations.

It has been found that whenever government is forced to participate as an employer in the arbitration process, as it is in negotiations with police, undue administrative influence, arbitration benevolence, and the propensity of arbitrators to exceed their responsibility can result (Posthuma, 1990). Kleintop and Loewenbert (1990) concluded that the parties may become dependent upon the process, thus leading to the criticism that alternative methods of dispute resolution are being ignored.

Liebeskind (1987) found that compulsory interest arbitration for public safety officers performed its function in bringing the parties together. Voluntary settlements were possible in 68% of the cases that were studied. Thus the realistic expectations of both parties in compulsion arbitration can contribute to more positive collective negotiations.

Impact of Interest Arbitration on Contract Provisions

It is often questioned whether interest arbitration is preferable to fact finding or collective bargaining for police. DiLauro (1989) believes that the interest arbitration is highly preferable to fact finding or collective bargaining by itself when bargaining impasses arise between the union representing police officers and their employers. There is an emphasis on "interests" such as what shall be the basic terms and conditions of employment, rather than on "rights" which involve the interpretations or application of laws, agreements, or customary practices. While mandatory arbitration tends to be a substitute for strikes, it is also a substitute for collective bargaining by itself.

A fact finder may tend to please union representatives more than management, according to a study by Jennings, Paulson, and Williams (1988). They questioned 235 union representatives from various unions and 287 management representatives. Labor respondents felt that the fact finding was very ineffective. Police union representatives in particular, felt the process was closer to the union's position than did representatives from the other unions just cited.

While fact finders may tend to favor unions, arbitrators tend to favor management. Arbitrators award about 40% of cases to the unions, according to a study by Feuille and Schwochau (1988). Unions tend to prevail on salary issues; employers on non-salary issues.

Bargaining and Police Salaries

Considerable research has been conducted on the issue of police salaries. In the research on police salaries most of it is directed to mechanisms initially determining salary. The works of Schwochau and Feuille (1988), Graham (1988) Dell'Omo (1990) and Connolly (1986) are illustrative of such work. Because police officers are generally expected not to strike, salaries are not set by market pressures such as a lockout or work stoppage as is sometimes the case with employees whose work is considered less essential.

Arbitrators tend to compare arbitrated salaries to others in the same city or state (Schwochau and Feuille, 1988). This can be good in bringing about comparability within a region, but also might lead to a myopic approach to police salaries in a broader context. Other facts considered by arbitrators include city's ability to pay, cost of living, inflation, employer's offer, and bargaining history.

The Fraternal Order of Police has been the most active participant in interest arbitration, and wage increases have been the most significant dispute. …

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