Arbitrator Rules City of Boston Failed to Follow Own Promotion Criteria

March 11, 2020

Labor unions not only fight to improve wages and benefits for their members. They fight to ensure employers are honest and honor their agreements. The Salaried Employees of North America, Local 9158, United Steelworkers, represented by Attorney Ian Russell, persuaded an independent arbitrator that the City of Boston's recent promotion violated the collective bargaining agreement by promoting an individual who did not mean the City's own critieria.

Arbitrators adhere to a basic principle when resolving disputes about hiring, assignments and promotions: "An employer must follow a fair and impartial procedure when filling a vacancy, and this includes the uniform application of objective criteria based on an adequate investigation of a bidder’s qualifications and analysis of whether the bidder meets the minimum requirements of the position."

Unions frequently negotiate guidelines for promotions or assignments because they want employers use genuine criteria that recognizes the value of successful service by employees. Unions frequently want to prevent employers and supervisors from making personnel decisions based upon your friendship or likeability, rather than on your ability to do the job.

Here, the City posted a vacancy for General Superintendent of Parks/Turf Maintenance that required two years of experience in "administration, park
management, maintenance operations in a large-scale commercial or government maintenance facility.”  The posting also expressly preferred :"candidates with demonstrated knowledge of urban forestry and park system operations will be given preference.” Instead of promoting a 17-year veteran of the Parks Department who was deemed qualified for the position, the City hired someone without the required experience, but with a journalism/communications degree and two years of experience in transportation operations.

The Arbitrator was having none of it. "In this case, If the City disregards its own minimum qualifications to fill a posted position, that is the definition of arbitrary and capricious. It was arbitrary and capricious for the City to state that applicants for the position of General Superintendent of Parks/Turf Maintenance need to have a minimum amount of experience in 'administration, park management, maintenance operations in a large-scale commercial or government maintenance facility' and hire an applicant without that experience."

The Arbitrator ordered the City to rescind the promotion and do the process over. Further, she forbade the City from using the experience of the improperly promoted candidate as a basis to promote that same candidate under the new process. The qualified candidate who was passed over will receive lost compensation and benefits if they are promoted under the new process.

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