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Case Study

Goldberg Segalla Helps City of Buffalo Achieve Reversal of Arbitration Award in Firefighters’ Retroactive Pay Raise Case

January 12, 2012

Goldberg Segalla successfully obtained a New York State Supreme Court ruling in favor of the City of Buffalo over the Buffalo Professional Firefighters Association to reverse an April 2011 arbitration award that would have improperly granted retroactive pay raises to Buffalo’s firefighters. The victory saves the city and its taxpayers millions of dollars in potential liability.

Goldberg Segalla partner Matthew C. Van Vessem, with assistance from Philip H. McIntyre of the firm’s Labor and Employment Practice Group, advocated the city’s position in this case.

In the January 12, 2012, decision by State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek, the court agreed with our position and said the arbitration panel’s award of back pay “is arbitrary and capricious, exceeds the panel’s authority, is not consistent with due process, lacks a rational basis and violates or disregards plain and clear existing law, and therefore must be vacated.”

In addition to vacating the arbitration award, Judge Michalek dismissed the firefighters’ challenge to the wage freeze imposed by the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority in April 2004, from which the union claimed back raises for the period 2002 to 2004 were still due. Matt had also led Goldberg Segalla’s representation of the city in that and other related cases before the New York Court of Appeals, where in March 2011 he won a reversal of an Appellate Division-Fourth Department decision granting the back pay.

The union contended that the wage freeze notwithstanding, the award granted increases effective on July 1, 2002 and July 1, 2003. However, the court’s rulings not only vacate the interest arbitration award, they also make it clear that any award from this panel is suspended by virtue of the wage freeze.