One of the most important rights granted in a collective bargaining agreement between a labor union and an employer is the right and obligation to arbitrate contract disputes. Virtually all collective bargaining agreements provide for arbitration of disputes regarding matters covered by the contract, including but not limited to hours, wages, overtime, promotion, discipline and discharge, layoff procedures. Unlike arbitration of private employment disputes (which are often forced upon employees with no opportunity to negotiate and frequently contain unfair provisions, such as bans on collective action), the terms of the labor arbitration process are negotiated at arms-length between the union and the employer. As a result, labor arbitration offers a relatively fast, efficient, and most importantly, fair method of resolving labor/management disputes.
Labor Arbitration Q & A
Who is the Arbitrator?
The arbitrator is essentially a private judge who the union and the employer have chosen to resolve their dispute. Arbitrators come from many backgrounds, but most are retired lawyers, professors, or labor experts who the parties trust to look at the dispute fairly and objectively.
How Does the Arbitrator Make a Decision?
The arbitrator’s decision must come from the parties’ collective bargaining agreement. The arbitrator must resolve whether or not the conduct complained of in the grievance violates the collective bargaining agreement, and if so, what remedy should ensue. To do this, arbitrators look carefully at the language in the collective bargaining agreement, past practice, bargaining history, and use their own common sense.
What Happens Next?
The arbitrator will make a ruling about whether or not an employer’s action violates the collective bargaining agreement. This may result in a reinstatement, removal of discipline from an employee’s record, backpay, and/or an interpretation on how collective bargaining agreement should apply to a certain situation. With very limited exceptions, the arbitrator’s award is the final word on the dispute
Miller O’Brien Jensen has extensive experience representing our union clients in labor arbitration. We are well-versed in drafting, evaluating, and processing grievances, selecting the right arbitrator for the case, and working with our union clients to present our best arguments to the chosen arbitrator. Over the years, Miller O’Brien Jensen lawyers have won countless awards reinstating unjustly terminated union members into their jobs (often with backpay), and we have secured orders affirming pro-worker interpretations regarding all manner of collective bargaining agreement provisions. We have also successfully defended our arbitration victories in court, when necessary, in numerous cases.