Sunday, March 18, 2012

Arbitrator correctly limited analysis to contract despite arguably conflicting City ordinance

A majority of the Court of Appeals of Indiana has reversed the trial court and enforced the  award of Arbitrator Edward Archer finding the City of Gary improperly refused to follow its contract concerning bumping.  Wright and AFSCME, Council 62, Local 4009 v. City of Gary, Indiana.

The Union was recognized in the contract as representative of a unit of “employees of the City of Gary, Gary Park Department, and Gary Health Department, as noted in the job classifications in Schedule A…” The unit excluded “confidential “employees as defined in a city ordinance.
After her position was eliminated, an employee sought to bump another employee, an administrative assistant to the Gary Fire Civil Service Commission (GFCSC), whose job title was among those included in Schedule A.  The employee was interviewed by the Chair of the GFCSC and determined to be qualified. Shortly thereafter, however, the City asserted that the administrative assistant position, despite its inclusion on Schedule A, was non union and it was a confidential position. The arbitrator rejected both of these contentions and upheld the grievance.
Seeking to set aside the award the City sought review, arguing that the Arbitrator had exceeded his authority and had imposed a remedy on an entity not a party to the contract. The City maintained that the inclusion of the administrative assistant position in the unit had been in error, and that a separate city ordinance had vested the GFSCS, a non party to the contract, with the sole authority to select the person who would fill that position.  The trial court agreed with the City, finding that the Arbitrator had ignored the city ordinance.
Reversing the trial court decision, a majority of the Appeals Court found that the Arbitrator correctly limited his decision to interpretation of the contract.  The court noted “An arbitrator exceeds his powers if his decision is based solely on the arbitrator’s view of the requirements of enacted legislation rather than on an interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement.”  Any damage suffered by the GFCSC by virtue of the inclusion of the administrative assistant position in the unit was an issue between the City and the GFSCS and not properly an issue before the arbitrator. The court also rejected the City’s challenge to the Arbitrator’s conclusion that the position was not confidential, noting that while the assistant did have access to personnel records, they were records of employees represented by a different union.

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