Collective Bargaining: Court Requires Parties to Resolve a Grievance

Appeal of the City of Manchester (New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Board)
Appeal of the City of Manchester (New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Board)
No. 2005-264
Friday, February 24, 2006

In this case, the New Hampshire Supreme Court decided that the Public Employee Labor Relations Board (PELRB) must allow the parties to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) to attempt to resolve a dispute in accordance with their bargained grievance procedure before asserting jurisdiction over an unfair labor practice (ULP) claim arising from the same substantive facts.

Following a citizen complaint, a Manchester police officer was subjected to two internal affairs investigative interviews, but was denied the opportunity to have union representatives participate in the interviews. Based upon the information gained in these two sessions, a disciplinary hearing was convened, and the officer’s employment was terminated for cause.

Three separate legal actions ensued. The terminated officer filed a grievance with the City under the CBA, and the matter was scheduled for arbitration in accordance with the contract. The officer also filed two ULP complaints with the PELRB, one against the City, and a second against the Union. Both of these ULP claims asserted that conducting the internal affairs interviews without providing the opportunity for Union representation violated the officer’s employment rights protected under both federal and state labor laws.

The Union did not contest the action against it, and the PELRB ordered the Union to provide representation to the terminated officer in the remaining two claims. The City moved to dismiss the PELRB action against it, arguing that the resolution of the grievance under the terms of the CBA would provide final and complete relief to the employee, and that the PELRB had no jurisdiction to adjudicate an ULP complaint while a grievance alleging the same substantive facts was pending and unresolved.

The PELRB refused to dismiss the ULP against the City, asserting that it had the primary authority, or jurisdiction, to resolve the dispute. The City appealed to the Supreme Court, which reversed the PELRB. The Court found that the primary purpose of the public employees labor relation statute, RSA 273-A, and the PELRB, is to assist the parties to a CBA in resolving disputes. Allowing the employee to raise a substantive issue before the PELRB while the same issue is pending before an arbitrator selected in accordance with the CBA would not be in accord with the legislative purpose, and thus was an error of law. The case was returned to the arbitrator, who will be required to hold a hearing and render a decision to the parties using the procedures contained in the CBA.