LCW Wins Grievance Arbitration Regarding “Me Too” Salary Increase Provision

Category: Fire Watch
Date: Jan 8, 2021 12:59 PM

LCW Partner Adrianna Guzman and Associate Attorney Emanuela Tala won a grievance arbitration on behalf of a county.  At issue was the interpretation of a “me too” salary increase provision in the memorandum of understanding between the county and the union (MOU).  The union claimed that the county’s actions to increase salaries in two different units triggered the “me too” clause. 

The “me too” language was originally added to the MOU in the term prior to the current MOU.   The original “me-too” language stated that if the county came to an agreement with another recognized employee organization “that includes an equivalent salary adjustment (i.e., 2% cost of living) for all classifications covered under the agreement, the County will implement the same salary adjustment for all employees covered by this MOU unless the agreement includes an exchange of a current benefit form.” 

In the negotiations for the current MOU, the county and the union added new language to the “me too” provision.  The new language added the word “range” so that the “me too” clause would be triggered by an “equivalent salary range adjustment” in another unit. 

The union’s witness in the arbitration was not at the bargaining table during negotiations for the previous MOU, but she was at the table for the current MOU.  Her testimony was limited to her understanding of the meaning of the “me too” clause.  The county’s witness, however, drafted the original language and was the county’s chief labor negotiator at all times relevant to the “me too” grievance.  The county’s witness testified that the “me too” language only applied to an across-the-board equivalent salary adjustment, and not to the inequivalent salary increases that were classification-specific as had occurred in two other units.  

The arbitrator noted that since the union brought the grievance, it had the burden of proving that the MOU’s “me too” salary increase language was triggered.  The arbitrator interpreted the MOU in favor of the county.  

First, the union claimed that the county’s decision to add a new step to one salary range for classifications in another unit triggered the clause.  The arbitrator disagreed.  He found that the addition of the word “range” in the “me too” clause limited the clause to only those instances when the county increased the number the county assigns to each salary range.  The evidence showed that while the county had added a new step to certain ranges, it had not increased any salary range numbers. 

Second, the union claimed that the county’s action to increase salary ranges for classifications in another unit to maintain market parity with other agencies triggered the “me too” clause.  The arbitrator disagreed here too. The parity adjustment was different for each of the classifications.    The arbitrator found that since the market parity increases were not equal, they were not the “equivalent salary range adjustment” required to trigger the “me too” clause.  

The arbitrator found that the remedy portion of the “me too” clause also supported the county’s interpretation because it required “the same equivalent salary range adjustment” to be applied to those classifications that the union represented.  Therefore, the “me too” language was not meant to cover salary range adjustments that varied from classification to classification. 

Note: 

This case illustrates how important it is to have witnesses who are not only familiar with the bargaining history but who were at the table when the MOU provision at issue was negotiated.  LCW attorneys are expert in preparing and presenting the agency witnesses who will be critical to winning grievance arbitrations.   

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