By Mark Toor | July 11, 2011

The Westchester County Department of Correction is resisting arbitration awards and forcing the county Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association into court to enforce them, according to an attorney for the union.

“In Westchester County, the m.o. is for the department to just not honor any arbitration agreement,” the attorney, Mercedes Maldonado of Koehler and Isaacs, said in an interview last week about a decision reinstating a separation between Correction Officers who work at the main jail and those assigned to the Women’s Unit.

‘Fairly Intransigent’

Arbitration awards do not come with an enforcement mechanism, she said, so the union must go to court, sometimes even seeking a contempt citation, before DOC honors the rulings. In the meantime, she said, the department can continue old practices discredited by the arbitrator for several months or perhaps a year.

The department is “fairly intransigent,” she said. She blamed department management, not County Executive Robert P. Astorino, who was elected in November 2009.

“We have to keep litigating and re-litigating,” said WCOBA president Alonzo West. “It gets frustrating.” He added, “When we lose something, we lose. We don’t go back and try to reinvent the wheel.”

County: We Haven’t Stalled

The charge that the county is delaying arbitration orders “is certainly an irresponsible statement,” said Justin Pine of the DOC. He said his department wins most of the cases that go to arbitration but has gone to court in a case involving time off because “we didn’t agree with the way the arbitrator did the numbers.” The county, he said, is “seeking to confirm the arbitrator’s decision.”

Had Separate Schedules

The union and the county are still negotiating how to implement a decision in favor of the union made at the end of May. The case involved the reopening of the Women’s Unit at the county jail. Before it was closed in 2004, the Women’s Unit had been a separate division with its own procedures for equally distributing overtime, allowing vacation picks and scheduling personal leave. When it was closed, its staff was merged with that of the Jail Division for the purposes of overtime, vacation and leave.

When the unit was reopened last year, WCOBA asked that the DOC reinstate the former policy separating the staffs of the unit and the main jail as specified in the contract. The department declined to do so, saying that would cause scheduling problems and increase overtime costs. The arbitrator ruled that the contract and previous arbitration decisions required that the separate Women’s Unit be reinstated.

Mr. Pine and Mr. West said the union and the county are still discussing how to handle the 26 union members who work part of the time in the Women’s Unit and the rest of the time in the main jail. Under the contract, union members bid for specific posts, and the arbitration award contained no provisions for splitting bids between two units.

Problems for Split-Post COs

“We have to figure out what to do with their bids,” Mr. Pine said. The arbitration decision, he said, had created problems for those 26 union members who work split posts.

Mr. West said agreements already exist that allow members to work in assignments other than the post they bid on, such as training and special-tactics teams. He also noted that the prison ward at Westchester Medical Center is a separate unit like the Women’s Jail. Officers in the prison ward who work in both the jail and the ward are allowed to bid for two assignments, one in each place, and divide their vacation picks between the two assignments, he said.

“They don’t want to make those exceptions in this situation,” Mr. West said of DOC officials. He said he hopes the arbitrator can clarify the issues, because going to court will only create delays.

Mr. Pine said the county has no plans to delay the Women’s Unit decision. Mr. West said the bidding issue was the only sticking point resulting from the ruling.

 

To read our firm E-Newsletter, please click on the link below:

Client Guidance