Friday, January 29, 2010

Verizon Corporate Services Corp. v. Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO (4th Cir.)

Filed: January 25, 2010
Per curiam opinion

Held: Affirming the district court’s setting aside of an arbitration award in which the arbitrator ignored critical language in an applicable collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the Court held that courts are bound to set aside awards when an arbitrator exceeds the scope of his authority and the express provisions in the parties' agreement.

Facts: Verizon and a union disputed whether a local letter agreement was superseded by a renegotiation of the parties' CBA. The dispute, which concerned what level of employees would perform certain tasks, was submitted to arbitration. The arbitrator found that the letter agreement was not superseded by the new CBA by virtue of a provision which stated that all local agreements that were valid and enforceable under the previous CBA would continue in effect for the life of the new CBA. Ignoring a negotiated letter agreement that was incorporated into the new CBA and that expressly addressed the issue, the arbitrator ruled in favor of the union.

Analysis: The governing documents were not disputed. As such, the arbitrator was bound to consider and apply the relevant contractual provisions defining the duties of the employees. Under the renegotiated CBA, and a letter agreement that was specifically incorporated into the new CBA, the parties explicitly agreed concerning assignment of the tasks. In the arbitrator’s decision, he did not acknowledge the existence of that agreement. The Court set aside the arbritrator’s award and concluded that the award was beyond the scope of the arbitrator’s authority because he “ignored” “critical language in a Collective Bargaining Agreement” and “introduce[d] some of his own brand of industrial justice.”

The full opinion is available in PDF.

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