MBJ Client Victory: Court Vacates Arbitration Award and Finds Clear Contract Language Trumps Contrary Past Practice

On December 15, 2009, Justice Hogan of Suffolk Superior Court vacated an arbitration award rendered against the City of Malden, Massachusetts.

The arbitration award was issued in favor of the Malden Firefighters Union and focused on the proper rate of overtime pay for the City’s firefighters.  The collective bargaining agreement between the City and the union mandated a specific rate for overtime for each firefighter depending on how many years the employee served.  The parties’ actual practice however, paid all firefighters at the highest rate, regardless of an individual’s longevity.  When it upgraded its computer and payroll systems, the City discovered the discrepancy and began paying firefighters according to the rates listed in the collective bargaining agreement.  The union challenged the City’s action based on the “past practice.”

The City appealed, arguing that the arbitrator exceeded his authority by ignoring the unambiguous contract language and that his ruling essentially rewrote the negotiated overtime provision of the collective bargaining agreement.  The Court agreed with the City and vacated the award in its entirety.  The case is City of Malden v. Malden Firefighters Union, Local 902, IAFF, No. 09-0616, Suffolk Superior Court.

David M. Connelly represented the City of Malden throughout the appeal in Suffolk Superior Court.