With Arbitration, Even When You Win, You Lose

SINCE ITS INCEPTION in the late 1960s, the Combined Counties Police Association has always been a police union that avoided arbitration as a means of settling disputes.

CCPA President John J. Flood has always taken great pains to persuade both members of this union and anyone else who would listen that arbitration is an expensive, unproductive and unfair way of solving disputes, particularly labor disputes.

“If you can’t or won’t take direct action,” Flood says, “don’t look for arbitration to benefit anybody but the lawyers.”

THE LATEST arbitration example that CCPA was involved in was a $200 win for an Evergreen Park Police Sergeant that cost the union and the village something in the area of $5,000 to settle, or about 25 times the actual cost of the award.

In that situation, Evergreen Park Sgt. Tom Graal got caught in the arbitration abyss because he had the bad luck to be promoted from Detective to Sergeant. It turned out that in his new position, he was being paid less than he had earned before the promotion.

Also, CCPA and the Village of Evergreen Park were in the midst of negotiating a new contract when Graal was upgraded. At first, it appeared that a natural and obvious solution to the problem was to give Graal a retroactive raise based on the rates spelled out in the new contract.

However, that solution was not as easy and fair as it looked because Graal’s seniority rating as a Detective still put him in a higher wage bracket as a Detective than as a Sergeant.

By the time the new contract was inked and Sgt. Graal was paid every last dollar the Village thought he was due, it turned out that he was still about $200 short.

And it was this last $200 dispute that could not be resolved through the normal grievance procedure and the numerous contacts that CCPA Chapter officers had with the top ranks of the Police Department and the Village.

ALSO, EVERGREEN Park Police Chief Thomas Evoy apparently could not resist the opportunity to throw his weight around, and so assured that this otherwise no-sweat grievance matter would go unresolved and wind up in arbitration.

Those close to the situation say it was Evoy who proved to be the real roadblock in working out a rational solution to a problem that, after all, amounted to just over a day’s pay in real dollars for Sgt. Graal.

FINALLY, COMMUNICATIONS broke down entirely and the Village Attorney made it clear the only other person he would speak to on the matter was an arbitrator. Figuring a single $200 dispute was hardly worth staging a strike over, CCPA officers reluctantly agreed to take the problem to arbitration.

Then, as is always the case, months went by. When the matter was finally brought to the attention of an arbitrator, it was pretty open and shut that Sgt. Graal’s belief that he was indeed owed about $200 was correct. The evidence was presented. The arbitrator’s decision was made. The order to pay Sgt. Graal his $200 was sent back to the Village.

However, along the way, both CCPA and the Village incurred about $2,500 each in legal fees, or a total of about $5,000, to settle a $200 claim.

And, according to President Flood, “that’s how arbitration always works. The only difference is, in the big disputes, the numbers become exponentially larger. But no matter how big or how small the original dispute is, the only people who win are the lawyers.”