A recent decision by the State Board of Mediation and Arbitration (SBMA) serves as a reminder of the importance of ensuring that the language of a collective bargaining agreement is correct before being ratified and approved.

A recently negotiated contract between the City of New Britain and its firefighters contained a minimum staffing requirement of a minimum of 139 firefighters. The Union filed a grievance claiming that the City was in violation of this provision. The City objected, claiming that this was a typo, and that the parties had agreed to reduce this number to 127 firefighters following the closure of a fire company. The City maintained that the union president conceded that the language specifying a minimum of 139 firefighters was incorrect, but refused to permit a correction to the agreed upon language of 127 firefighters.

While not disputing that the contract language was in fact a typo, the arbitration panel concluded that when the municipality discovered that the agreement contained an error, it should have refused to continue negotiations, and not vote approve the collective bargaining agreement. The panel voted 2-1 to order the City to staff its department at 139 firefighters; a significant penalty for including the incorrect number in the contract.