IN THE MATTER OF COUNTY OF MORRIS, MORRIS COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, and PBA LOCAL 298.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued: October 30, 2013
On appeal from the Public Employment Relations Commission, Docket No. IA-2012-035.
Stephen E. Trimboli argued the cause for appellant County of Morris/Morris County Sheriff's Office (Trimboli & Prusinowski, LLC, attorneys; Mr. Trimboli, of counsel and on the briefs).
Steven Backfisch argued the cause for respondent PBA Local 298 (Lindabury, McCormick, Estabrook & Cooper, attorneys; Donald B. Ross, Jr., on the brief).
Martin R. Pachman, General Counsel, argued the cause for respondent Public Employment Relations Commission (Mary E. Hennessy-Shotter, Deputy General Counsel, on the statement in lieu of brief).
Before Judges Fuentes, Fasciale and Haas.
The Morris County Sheriff's Office and the County of Morris (collectively Morris County) appeal from a final agency decision by the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) affirming an interest arbitration award permitting automatic step increments for the 2011 calendar year. We remand for further proceedings.
PBA Local 298 (the Union) is the exclusive bargaining agent for all sheriff's officers employed by Morris County. On December 31, 2010, the parties' collective bargaining agreement (CBA) expired. On April 17, 2012, Morris County filed a Petition to Initiate Compulsory Interest Arbitration. PERC appointed an arbitrator, who conducted an interest arbitration hearing on May 17, 2012 and June 4, 2012. On June 18, 2012, the arbitrator issued a written decision establishing a three-year contract with a term of January 1, 2011 through December 31, 2013. The arbitrator awarded the Union step increments for 2011, with no other salary increases in that year. He further awarded the Union two percent salary increases in each of the final two years of the contract, but with no step movement in those years.
Morris County and the Union both appealed to PERC. Morris County challenged the arbitrator's decision to award the step increases in 2011. The Union sought additional salary increases. On July 19, 2012, PERC issued a decision upholding both appeals and remanding the matter to the arbitrator. PERC found that the arbitrator failed to make adequate findings regarding the statutory factors set forth in N.J.S.A. 34:13A-16g, which govern an arbitrator's determination of an interest arbitration. Thus, PERC concluded that "[t]his award must be remanded to the arbitrator to provide an independent analysis of each of the statutory factors and to explain how the evidence and each relevant factor was considered in arriving at his award."
On August 28, 2012,  the arbitrator issued a new decision reaffirming the terms of his prior award, including the award of step increments for 2011. Morris County appealed to PERC and argued that the arbitrator had again failed to consider the factors set forth in N.J.S.A. 34:13A-16g. On October 11, 2012, PERC issued its decision and affirmed the arbitrator's award. PERC stated:
Our review of the record confirms that the arbitrator evaluated all of the statutory criteria, explained why he gave more weight to some factors and less to others, and issued a comprehensive award that reasonably determined the issues and ...