New York's Highest Court Holds That "No Layoff" Clause in Public Employer's Collective Bargaining Agreement is Not Arbitrable

February 2, 2012

By: Colin M. Leonard

New York's highest court recently ruled that a provision in the collective bargaining agreement between the Village of Johnson City and its firefighters' union which states that the Village will not "lay-off any member of the bargaining unit during the term of this contract" is not explicit enough to prevent the Village from abolishing the positions of six firefighters and terminating their employment.

Under New York law, a "job security" provision in a public sector collective bargaining agreement violates public policy and is unenforceable unless, among other requirements, it explicitly prohibits the public employer from abolishing positions even due to budgetary constraints and the collective bargaining agreement that contains the provision is reasonable in duration.  The public policy rationale for this stringent requirement is that public employers should not be hamstrung in their efforts to eliminate positions for economic reasons unless they have clearly promised to maintain employment levels for some reasonable period of time.

In the Village of Johnson City case, the Court of Appeals determined that the provision in the collective bargaining agreement prohibiting layoffs did not explicitly prohibit the Village from abolishing firefighter positions out of budgetary necessity.  Accordingly, the Court of Appeals upheld the layoffs of the six firefighters and denied the union's application to compel the Village to submit to the arbitration process.