An opinion piece in the Maryland Reporter by attorney Richard J. Douglas argues that a recent court case will have broad implications for Maryland’s public sector unions. In Prince George’s County, Md. v. Prince George’s County Police Civilian Employees Association, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals found that the Prince George’s County Police Department’s duty to effectively investigate criminal conduct could not be compromised by a collective bargaining agreement. In essence, the Court held that the “public policy” of conducting criminal investigations overrode the collectively bargained disciplinary process. Douglas believes that the Court’s holding can apply to other areas of public policy and offers the following analysis of the case:
The Court of Special Appeals has ruled that “detection and investigation of criminal activity” constitutes a public policy escape hatch from a union contract. This ruling begs new questions: don’t Marylanders also have strong “public policy” interests in effective teaching, better fire prevention, and more economical transportation infrastructure?
I predict that additional “public policy” escape hatches from public sector union contracts will be fashioned by the courts in camps far beyond policing.
In its opinion, the Court describes the limits of the “public policy” argument in its holding by stating,
A court will not enforce a labor arbitration award if that award is contrary to public policy. Bd. of Educ. of Prince George’s Cnty, 309 Md. at 100. However, “the public policy which obliges a court to refrain from enforcing a collective bargaining agreement must be ‘explicit.’” Amalgamated Transit Union, 305 Md. at 389 (quoting W.R. Grace &Co. v. Local Union 759, 461 U.S. 757, 766 (1983)). The public policy “must be well defined and dominant, and is to be ascertained by reference to the laws and legal precedents and not from general considerations of public interests.” Id.
For more information, see the opinion piece in the Maryland Reporter, or read the opinion of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.