AUBURN — County officials are seeking to reverse the opinion of an arbitration panel that sided with a county workers’ union in allowing members to change the way they protest disciplinary actions and firings.

The Board of Commissioners for Androscoggin County filed a complaint against the Androscoggin County Employees Association in December in an effort to reverse an arbitration panel’s 2-1 ruling that would allow workers to file grievances and go through arbitration over disciplinary actions, including discharge.

Since 1982, workers have appealed such actions by going through a governmental appeals procedure to Androscoggin County Superior Court, according to court documents.

An attorney for county officials argued in court papers that the procedure the union was seeking doesn’t conform with state law despite the arbitration panel’s December opinion favoring the union.

In that decision, the panel decided county workers should be able to “elect which appeal procedure they may use if they disagree with the decision of the commissioners,” according to court papers. “The election of appeal procedure shall be irrevocable and subject to the association’s prior approval when employees elect arbitration.”

In 1981, the county began collective bargaining with a union representing county workers. In the 1982 contract that followed, the parties agreed that union workers discipline and discharge matters would be handled by a governmental appeals process and not through the grievance procedure of the collective bargaining agreement or to grievance arbitration, according to the commissioners’ complaint.

The county’s most recent workers’ contract expired in 2012. Negotiations for a new contract broke down.

In 2014, the union filed for arbitration.

In written arguments, commissioners argued the governmental appeal process worked well for more than 30 years and is the only process to appeal discipline and discharge sanctioned under state law.

The union later argued that “there is literally no other county law enforcement agency that operates on the basis that (governmental appeal in court) is an ‘exclusive’ remedy. Every single agency provides some form of arbitration as alternative dispute resolution for discharge and discipline issues.”

A majority of a three-member arbitration panel ruled in December to change the way discipline and discharge matters are handled, allowing workers to follow the contract grievance procedure with appeal to arbitration.

A hearing on the commissioners’ appeal of the arbitration panel’s opinion is scheduled for Nov. 30 in Androscoggin County Superior Court.

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