Schenectady and other municipalities throughout the state have the right to discipline their own officers, rather than turning to an arbitrator to make the decision, the Court of Appeals has ruled.
In a long-awaited decision, the state’s highest court ruled unanimously that discipline isn’t a matter of union negotiation. Any municipality that had laws governing police discipline before the Taylor Law went into effect can still use those laws to discipline officers, the court ruled.
The decision overturns the disciplinary practices that have been in place for decades. Schenectady, like most municipalities, believed it had to negotiate discipline after the state passed the Taylor Act in 1967.
In Schenectady, the police chief negotiated with union leaders before imposing any penalties on a misbehaving officer. City officials also had lengthy negotiations with the union over who could decide whether an officer should be disciplined. Arbitrators were sometimes chosen on the basis of their previous decisions, with union leaders insisting on arbitrators who had often ruled in favor of police.
All that now appears to be over.
The Court of Appeals said in its ruling that discipline can’t be negotiated if a municipality previously had a process for disciplining officers, before the Taylor Law. In those cases, discipline “is a prohibited subject of collective bargaining,” the court ruled.
The Taylor Law said police discipline “may” be included in collective bargaining agreements with police unions. But the law also said it did not repeal or modify any laws that municipalities already had in place.
The Court of Appeals cited that part of the law to mean that if municipalities already had a non-contractual way to discipline officers, they could keep it.
For more on the story, see Friday's print and online editions of The Daily Gazette.