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April 8, 2011

Arbitrating an alleged breach of a collective bargaining agreement

Arbitrating an alleged breach of a collective bargaining agreement
Albala v Nassau County, 270 AD2d 482

The Albala case illustrates the general rule that the employee organization, rather than an individual unit member, is the party that must prosecute any alleged violation of a collective bargaining agreement negotiated under the Taylor Law to arbitration.

The Appellate Division affirmed the dismissal of Albala’s petition, pointing out that a union member has no individual rights under a collective bargaining agreement, which he or she can enforce against his or her employer. In other words, the agreement is the property of the union.

Another factor mentioned in the court’s ruling: CSEA did not avail itself of the remedy provided by the collective bargaining agreement to press Albala’s complaint. This, said the Appellate Division, meant that the basic rule requiring that a party exhaust the administrative remedies otherwise available was not honored, thus precluding any judicial review of the matter.

The court also commented that determination of the Nassau County Office of Labor Relations was not arbitrary or capricious since it was rationally based on the facts before it.

One exception to the general rule that the union “owns the contract” for the purpose of enforcing the terms of the agreement: an individual may bring an action on his or her own behalf if he or she can demonstrate that the union had violated its duty of fair representation with respect to the rights of the unit member in the matter.

However, a claim that an employee organization violated its duty of fair representation cannot be argued in an Article 75 action to vacate the arbitration award.

Two rulings by state courts illustrate this point, Croman v City University of New York, 277 AD2d 185, and Parisi v NYC Housing Authority, Appellate Division, First Department, 269 AD2d 210.

Croman involved a disciplinary action. Croman, a member of the faculty at Borough of Manhattan Community College [BMCC], had been found guilty of taking a paid sabbatical leave of absence based on misrepresentations. The penalty imposed by the arbitrator: an unpaid suspension for one-half year, to reimburse the employer for the expenses it incurred during her sabbatical leave. BMCC had asked the arbitrator to terminate Croman.

Croman’s Article 75 petition asked the court to vacate the arbitration award because, among other things, her union representative did not fairly and adequately represent her in the disciplinary action. Justice York’s response:

Fair representation claims should be asserted in plenary [full and unlimited] actions in which the court is asked to determine [1] whether the union breached its duty was and [2] whether or not the collective bargaining agreement was violated.

Justice York’s conclusion: even assuming that Croman ha[s] a viable fair representation claim under New York State law ... a proceeding to vacate the arbitration award [is] not the proper forum for asserting it. Justice York cited Obot v NYS Department of Correctional Services, 89 NY2d 883 in support of his decision.

In sustaining Justice York’s determination, the Appellate Division said:

Absent clear language in Education Law §6212 (9) prohibiting arbitration of disciplinary matters involving tenured faculty, we reject petitioner's argument that, since that section vests the power to remove tenured faculty solely in respondent's Board of Trustees, public policy is violated by a collective bargaining agreement delegating the authority to discipline to an arbitrator at the employee's option. “It is well settled that a contract provision in a collective bargaining agreement may modify, supplement, or replace the more traditional forms of protection afforded public employees.” (Dye v New York City Tr. Auth., 88 AD2d 899, affd 57 NY2d 917.) Here, the collective bargaining agreement that governed petitioner's employment gave her the option to either accept the penalty recommended by respondent's designee or take the matter to arbitration. Petitioner elected arbitration. Public policy does not nullify the choice she made (cf., Matter of Abramovich v Board of Educ., 46 NY2d 450, cert denied 444 US 845).

In the Parisi case, the Appellate Division ruled that Katherine Parisi, a former employee of the New York City Housing Authority had no right to sue the Authority under the collective bargaining agreement.

Here, said the court, her remedies for challenging alleged breaches of the agreement were limited to filing a complaint under the grievance procedure set forth in the contract.

 Parisi had claimed that she was entitled to certain payments under the terms of the agreement. The court said that Parisi did not gain a right to sue by reason of her union’s refusal to take up her grievance, unless such refusal amounted to a breach by the union of its duty of fair representation. Dismissing Parisi’s petition, the court said that she had not shown that the union had breach this duty.

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Please Note:

Subsequent court and administrative rulings, or additions or amendments to laws, rules and regulations may have modified or clarified or vacated or reversed or otherwise have had an impact on the decisions summarized here. Accordingly, these summaries should be Shepardized® or otherwise checked to make certain that the most recent information is being considered by the reader.



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