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Summary of Public Safety Interest Arbitration Cases, Volume 3

This information update summarizes public safety interest arbitration awards that have been issued since our update of July 2013. (See: Davis & Kuelthau “Arbitrators’ Awards Arrive”, December 19, 2012, and “Arbitrators’ Awards Update”, July 18, 2013). Readers are encouraged to read the entire award for a complete understanding of each case. (Full text of the decisions are available at

Arbitrator McGilligan focused on wages and Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) to decide this case. He found that the ability to pay and CPI factors favored the Union’s offer. Using a three year analysis which included a wage freeze accepted by the Union in 2010, the Arbitrator found strong support in the external comparables for the Union’s 2% wage increase in 2012. The external WRS comparables and internal comparables favored the County. The Arbitrator selected the Union’s offer.

The Arbitrator favored the Union’s offer on the local economic conditions factor. The City’s final offer was based on the voluntary settlement it achieved with the firefighters and received strong support for the City’s offer. External comparables strongly favored the Union’s offer.

What tipped the scale to favor the City’s offer was the Union’s proposal to cap the WRS contribution at 6.65%. Finding no support in the comparables for the cap, the Arbitrator selected a “seriously flawed City offer.”

In a rare move, the Union appealed the decision to circuit court. The circuit court judge upheld the Arbitrator’s award. Green Bay Professional Police Assn. v. City of Green Bay, No. 13-CV-1940, (Brown County Circuit Court, Judge Tammy Jo Hock, 10/07/14).

The internal firefighter settlement “slightly” favored the City’s offer. External comparables favored the City’s offer maintaining its high wage rankings. Ultimately, when the WRS contribution and wage increases were combined, the external comparability factor favored the Union’s offer.

The Arbitrator was critical of the City’s lack of quid pro quo in seeking full WRS payment by employees without a gradual phase-in. The greater weight, local economic conditions factor, favored the Union’s offer. The Union’s offer was selected.

Tentative Agreements:

Wages: 2014: 1%/1% split Jan./July, 2015: 1%/1% split Jan./July
WRS: 100% of employee’s share of WRS up to 6.65% in 2014 and 2015 (City pays .35% in 2015)
Health Insurance: City pays 100% of premium

The fire union reached a voluntary agreement on 8/17/13 with a 1% wage increase in 2013 and 50% of employee’s share of WRS.

While the local economic conditions factor favored the City’s position, the Arbitrator turned to the other factors to evaluate the offers. External comparables supported the Union’s offer.

The Union’s offer included a 2.5% “catch-up” increase to bridge the wage gap that developed from a previous arbitration award. While dismissing the Union’s claim for “catch-up,” the Arbitrator found that the City’s final offer was inconsistent with the fire settlement. Specifically, the City would contribute the full police employee’s share of WRS in 2013 while the firefighters paid one-half of the employee’s share beginning August 17, 2013. While the 5% wage lift proposed by the City matched the wage lift of the firefighters, the WRS discrepancy caused the Arbitrator to find that the Union’s offer best reflected the internal settlement.

The Union’s offer was selected due to the “peculiar effective date” that “impacted the internal comparability criterion to the detriment of the City’s offer.”

Tentative Agreements:

  1. Health insurance premium contribution from 5.0% to 8% 1/1/14 and 12% 1/1/15
  2. WRS: 1/1/13 – 1.5% of employee’s share, 1/1/14 – 3.0% of employee’s share, 1/1/15 – 4.5% of employee’s share

Among the external comparables, the City’s offer was favored on wage increases, WRS contributions and health insurance. The City’s offer matched its firefighters’ settlement and the Arbitrator afforded great weight to the internal settlement.

The Union’s additional 1% wage increase as the quid pro quo for the other concessions was not supported by the internal or external comparables. The City’s offer prevailed.

Tentative Agreements:

  1. 1/1/13 – 3% WRS employee contribution
  2. Health contribution by employees from 10% to 11% and requirement that employees pay for health insurance on an unpaid leave.


The Union’s offer was favored under the “greater weight” local economic conditions criterion. The Arbitrator stated that the City’s offer reduced the employee’s morale and preferred the Union’s offer on the interests and welfare of the public factor.

The firefighter union reached a voluntary settlement on the same terms as the City’s offer. While finding that the Union’s offer would, “… more likely than not, create more internal strife and upset labor peace to an unhealthy extent,” the Arbitrator interestingly did not reach any conclusion regarding the weight this factor should have in the outcome.

With respect to external comparables, the City’s offer lost ground on the ranking of wage rates. The Union’s offer was slightly favored on this statutory factor.

The Arbitrator ruled that the City did not offer enough of a quid pro quo for the concessions agreed to in health insurance and WRS. He also did not believe the City demonstrated a need for the change in status quo. The Union’s offer was selected.


Since the passage of Acts 10/32, there have been only 15 public safety arbitration awards. The employer’s offer was selected in 6 cases (40%) while the Union’s offer was selected in 9 cases (60%). Voluntary settlements were clearly the overwhelming preferred outcome of collective bargaining with police, firefighters and deputies.

Risk is a powerful motivator to achieve a voluntary settlement. A review of the 15 arbitration awards reinforces the commonly-held belief that on any given day, on any given issue, either party can prevail— depending on the arbitrator.

Wages, WRS and health insurance continue to dominate the issues arbitrated. Arbitrators continue to struggle with the weight to be given internal settlements versus external comparable settlements. Some arbitrators have required a major quid pro quo for changes in employee contributions to WRS and health insurance while others have not.

If you have any questions regarding arbitrator awards, please contact your Davis & Kuelthau attorney.