Workplace Arbitration Decision with Chicago Fire Department Stirs Controversy
In a controversial workplace arbitration ruling, Ed Benn decided that although the Fire Department employees who were suspended for over-reporting their miles were, in fact, guilty of doing so, he decided that it was such a commonplace occurrence that they should not be punished for it. This decision, of course, has stirred up a lot of debate.
Contract Arbitration when Rulebreaking is the Norm
According to Mr. Benn, the over-reporting of miles was, “so deep, long-standing and pervasive that it went beyond condonation to rise to the level of becoming almost a work rule." In other words, it happened so much, and the supervisors ignored it so much, that it essentially became a part of normal practice. It seemed unfair to uphold the suspension of a few Fire Prevention Bureau employees in light of how often this happened.
Ultimately, Mr. Benn believed that if these employees were punished while others were not, that would invalidate the policies and procedures of the Bureau in a much more damaging way than reinstating the guilty employees.
Criticism of the Legal Arbitration Decision
This is a highly unconventional decision, and it may very well be appealed by the Chicago Fire Prevention Bureau. While on a certain level it is true that it would be unfair to penalize a few employees in light of the pervasiveness of the problem, it is also true that Benn's ruling was not according to the letter of the law, the collective bargaining agreement between the Bureau and the Union and the written policies and procedures of the workplace.
Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune pointed this out, accusing Mr. Benn of helping “employees who were cheaters.”
In the end, this will be a fascinating employment arbitration to follow, if it goes any further.