Monday, October 1, 2012

Preclusive effect of prior award

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio has vacated an arbitrator's award for failing to give preclusive effect to an earlier award, and because it conflicted with the contract. Teamsters Local Union No. 436 v. The J.M. Smucker Company.
The earlier award arose from the reorganization of Smucker's facility. Smucker discontinued employee Pennie Graham's position and issued her a bump slip, enabling her to displace a less senior employee. Graham sought to displace a team leader, but Smucker refused to allow that bump, arguing that the contract allowed it discretion in hiring individuals for that position. Graham grieved this action, and Arbitrator Robert Vana found that Smucker had violated the contract and allowed Graham to bump into the team leader position. The Company, however, did not issue a bump slip to the incumbent in that position, employee Dave Rose. Rose grieved this denial and the matter was submitted to Arbitrator John J. Murphy. As summarized by the Court:

Analyzing Pennie Graham's bump, Arbitrator Murphy found that though she had prevailed before Arbitrator Vana, Graham had never in fact established that her job had been eliminated. Smucker had merely been estopped in that proceeding from arguing the point because it had issued her a bump slip and effectively conceded the issue. Considering Graham's reassignment anew, Arbitrator Murphy ruled that Graham's job had not in fact been eliminated, as there had been no layoffs and no workforce reduction at the plant. Rose's job, Arbitrator Murphy concluded, was unaffected by layoffs or job eliminations and Rose therefore had no right to a "sequential" bump. ... The Arbitrator's analysis relied on the CBA provision limiting bumping rights to circumstances where an employee's position has been eliminated.

The Union filed this action seeking to set aside Arbitrator Murphy's award. In granting the Union's request, the Court noted that ordinarily the preclusive effect of an earlier award is for the arbitrator to decide. Here, however, the cba provided that arbitration awards were "final and binding on the parties and all effected [sic] employees", and since Rose was an "effected" employee, Arbitrator Murphy's award conflicted with the express terms of the contract. The Court also determined that Arbitrator Murphy failed to consider the past practice of the parties and as a result his decision was without support in the cba.

Accordingly the Union's motion for summary judgment was granted.

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