On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Passaic County, Docket No. L-3207-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Payne and Baxter.
The sole question presented by this appeal is whether the Law Division judge erred when he vacated an arbitrator's award in favor of defendant Policemen's Benevolent Association Local 286 (PBA) in which the arbitrator had ordered plaintiffs, the County of Passaic and the Office of the Passaic County Sheriff (the County), to prospectively restore a five-percent pay differential to all detectives, which the County had been paying for six years in lieu of overtime compensation, until it discontinued the practice. We agree with the judge's conclusion that the arbitrator's decision was contrary to public policy, and improperly applied past practices to override the unambiguous terms of the contract for which the parties had bargained. We therefore affirm the order under review.
I. The PBA is an employee organization representing Passaic County Sheriff's Officers including sheriff's officers holding the rank of detective. The parties were bound by a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which was valid from January 1, 2003 through December 31, 2006. Although the agreement was set to expire at that time, it is still in effect because a new agreement has not been finalized. At issue in this appeal is the agreement between the County and the PBA, in which the County agreed to pay the detectives working in the Sheriff's Department a five-percent pay differential.
The CBA contains four sections pertinent to our review. The first is Article 6, which provides for overtime pay:
Article 6 (Overtime Payment)
For Correctional, Courthouse and Patrol Officers, time and one-half (1 1/2) the Employee's regular rate of pay shall be paid in fifteen (15) minute segments after such Employee has worked ten (10) minutes beyond the normal eight (8) hours work shift for both four and two (4 & 2) and five and two (5 & 2) personnel, provided that such Employee reported for work on time for his/her original shift, and further provided that said Employee worked the full shift.
A separate provision, Article 9, "Night Differential," specifies that any detective working the night shift, between 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m., would be entitled to a pay differential of either five or ten percent in addition to the employee's regular pay. This section authorizes extra pay, based on working the night shift, and does not require the employee to have worked overtime. It provides:
Article 9 (Night Differential)
Employees working on shifts whose working hours fall between 3:00 PM and 7:00 AM shall receive, in addition to their regular pay, an additional ten (10%) percent of their base salary which shall be incorporated in the base pay. This ten (10%) percent night differential shall be divided equally into the number of pay periods in each year, and said amount, incorporated into the base salary, shall be paid each regular pay. Said amount shall also be paid to all Employees working the second and third shifts when on vacation, personal, sick and holiday leave.
An additional ten (10%) percent may also be paid to Employees who do not strictly fall into the above categories if their responsibilities sometimes call for odd hours, and if authorized by the Sheriff or his designated representative.
Effective January 1, 2000, the current night differential paid to Employees working the 11:00 PM to 7:00 AM shift, will decrease to five (5%) percent for all new Employees hired after January 1, 2000. [Emphasis added).]
The contract also contains a "Miscellaneous" provision, Article 16, which provides, in relevant part:
Article 16 (Miscellaneous)
Except a[s] otherwise provided herein, all benefits which Employees have heretofore enjoyed and are presently enjoying shall be maintained and continued by the county during the term of this agreement. The personnel policies and regulations of this department, established for all Employees of all divisions, which have [been] mutually agreed upon and are in effect, shall ...