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Labor Law by David E. Strecker

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119
© 2011 by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
Chapter 7
Labor Arbitration
What Is Labor Arbitration?
Labor arbitration involves the submission of a dispute pertaining to the collec-
tive bargaining agreement to a neutral third party who renders a decision that
is nal and binding. In these days of alternative dispute resolution, I often point
out to my colleagues in the bar that we have had alternative dispute resolution in
the labor management arena for seventy years or more. Although it has its faults,
labor arbitration has proved itself again and again as being the best way to resolve
most disputes over the interpretation and application of the collective bargaining
agreement.
The Legal Status of Labor Arbitration
e legal status of labor arbitration was established by the U.S. Supreme Court in
a group of cases referred to as the “Steelworkers Trilogy” in the early 1960s. All of
these cases involved the Steelworkers union and thus the name.*
Without trying to present a lengthy legal discussion of these cases, we can distill
the holdings to the following crucial points:
ere is a national policy in favor of labor arbitration. It directly contributes
to industrial peace and is the quid pro quo for a pledge by the union not to
strike during the term of the agreement.
*
United Steelworkers v. American Manufacturing Co., 363 U.S. 564 (1960); United
Steelworkers v. Warrior & Gulf Navigation Co., 363 U.S. 574 (1960); United Steelworkers v.
Enterprise Wheel & Car Corp., 363 U.S. 593 (1960).
120 ◾  Labor Law: A Basic Guide to the National Labor Relations Act
© 2011 by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
Arbitration clauses should be construed broadly. Courts will nd most dis-
putes to be subject to labor arbitration (although this may vary depending on
how the arbitration language in the contract is drafted).
e fact that the company thinks a dispute is utterly without merit (and can
prove it) is not grounds to refuse arbitration. If the dispute arises under a
provision of the agreement, it is arbitrable.
e arbitrator’s decision will not be overturned unless it can be shown he/
she did not base the award on the provisions of the contract or was other-
wise biased for one side. An arbitrator is not allowed to dispense his/her
own brand of industrial justice,” but must interpret the parties agreement.
e arbitrator derives his/her power from the parties themselves and from
their contract.
In an earlier decision, the Supreme Court noted that federal law would apply
to arbitration disputes, not state law.* Many state courts were distrustful of labor
arbitration years ago and would not uphold the legitimacy of arbitration provisions
in labor contracts. e Supreme Court made it clear that state courts had no power
to apply state law to arbitration disputes with regard to employees who were covered
by the National Labor Relations Act.
Later Supreme Court cases have added even more potency to the concept of
labor arbitration. For instance, it is now clear that a dispute that arises when the
labor agreement is in eect must be arbitrated if the union so desires even though
the old contract that created the arbitration duty has expired. Another case held
that the public policy in favor of arbitration was so strong that it required an arbi-
trator’s decision to be upheld who ordered an employee who was using drugs rein-
stated to his job.
at is, the public policy in favor of having a drug-free workplace
was outweighed by the policy in favor of labor arbitration.
In more recent years, the Supreme Court has upheld arbitration provisions in
employment agreements in companies where no unions were involved. Once again,
the High Court based its decision on the strong public policy in favor of informal,
inexpensive, speedy resolution of disputes that arbitration provides (at least in com-
parison to law suits).
How Is an Arbitrator Selected?
e parties can specify any method they desire in the collective bargaining agree-
ment. Most parties to labor agreements obtain their arbitrators from one of two
agencies: the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) or the American
*
Textile Workers Union v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448 (1957).
United Paperworkers International Union, AFL-CIO v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29 (1987).
EEOC v. Wae House, Inc., 534 U.S. 279 (2002).

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