January 02, 2022

State Vaccine Mandate Interest Arbitration—Ruling and Dissent

On December 29 Arbitrator Edwin Benn ruled against AFSCME members in the interest arbitration regarding the State’s plan to require COVID vaccinations for employees in IDOC and IDJJ (see below). AFSCME had invoked the right of security employees to interest arbitration when the State broke off negotiations with the Union over the mandate and was prepared to unilaterally implement its terms.

In the arbitration, as at the bargaining table, AFSCME opposed the State’s rigid vaccine mandate, arguing that employees who do not wish to be vaccinated should have the option of testing weekly for COVID—a protocol in place for all school districts in the state. Benn did not agree and instead affirmed the State’s position that a crisis exists that requires the most robust possible response. He set January 31 as the date by which employees must receive a first vaccination shot

Interest arbitration relies on a tripartite panel which in this instance includes the neutral arbitrator (Edwin Benn) who serves as chair; a union representative (Ed Caumiant, AFSCME Council 31 Regional Director) and an employer representative (Ed Jackson, DHS Labor Relations). The panel effectively functions as a sole arbitrator, since the employer and the union panel members invariably vote in opposition to each other, leaving the neutral arbitrator to be the deciding vote. The AFSCME representative on the panel has filed a formal dissent from the decision at the Labor Board (see below).

The arbitrator’s initial ruling only pertained to the core question of whether the mandate could proceed. He remanded all related issues—e.g. time off for COVID-related quarantines—to the parties to resolve by January 7. He retained jurisdiction to rule on any outstanding issues that cannot be resolved within that timeframe.

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