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Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Authority of the arbitrator to fashion a remedy affecting a party found to have violated the terms of the collective bargaining agreement


Authority of the arbitrator to fashion a remedy affecting a party found to have violated the terms of the collective bargaining agreement
Matter of Merrick Union Free School Dist. v Merrick Faculty Assn., Inc., 2011 NY Slip Op 06128, Appellate Division, Second Department

In this CPLR Article 75 action the Merrick Faculty Association, Inc. appealed an order of the Supreme Court, Nassau County that granted the school district’s petition seeking to vacate the arbitrator’s award and denied the Association’s cross motion to confirm the award. 

The Appellate Division modified the lower court’s order addressing the arbitrator’s award with respect to (1) providing health insurance to individuals in the negotiating unit whose spouses are afforded New York State Health Insurance Program [NYSHIP] coverage where those spouses are employed by a participating agency other than the Merrick Union Free School District, and (2) directed the parties to negotiate a remedy for affected bargaining unit members for the relevant period.

The collective bargaining agreement provided that the district “would provide employees with single or family health insurance coverage under NYSHIP except that the district would not provide NYSHIP dual family coverage to spouses of School District employees who were afforded NYSHIP coverage through the School District or another public employer. 

The New York State Department of Civil Service, which administers NYSHIP, subsequently issued a Policy Memo 133 indicating that participating employers could not enter into collective bargaining agreements that denied dependent health insurance coverage to an otherwise eligible employee based on the fact that the employee's spouse was eligible for NYSHIP coverage through a different employer. 

The Association filed a grievance based on the Memo seeking to obviate the provision in the collective bargaining agreement limiting dual family coverage and “that all employees affected by the Memo be offered the option to obtain NYSHIP dual family coverage or a buyout.”

The grievance was ultimately submitted to arbitration and the arbitrator sustained the grievance, invalidating the health insurance provisions in the CBA to the extent that they denied NYSHIP dual family coverage to employees whose spouses were afforded NYSHIP coverage through public employers other than the School District. 

The Appellate Division said that “An arbitration award may be vacated on one of three grounds: 1. that it violates a strong public policy; 2. is irrational; or 3. clearly exceeds a specifically enumerated limitation of the arbitrator's power.”

Noting that in determining whether an arbitration award should be vacated on the ground that the arbitrator clearly exceeded a specifically enumerated limitation of his or her authority, the court said "[i]t is not for the courts to interpret the substantive conditions of the contract or to determine the merits of the dispute." Rather, an award may be set aside upon this ground only where the arbitrator exceeded the express limitations of his or her powers, as set forth in the agreement itself.

In this instance the court found that the CBA provided that "[i]n the event any provision or provisions hereof are held to be unlawful, the remaining provisions of this [CBA] shall remain in effect and the parties thereto shall meet forth with [for] the purposes of modifying the same to conform with the law and/or negotiating provisions in lieu thereof." 

The Appellate Division ruled that Supreme Court erred in vacating the award on the ground that the arbitrator exceeded his authority in invalidating Article XI (D) of the CBA to the extent it violated Article II (B), explaining that “ Even if the arbitrator misconstrued or misapplied substantive rules of law, his determination did not exceed his authority and is not subject to judicial review.” 

As to the remedy directed by the arbitrator -- "grant health insurance or appropriate buyout compensation to bargaining unit members whose spouses are afforded coverage under the Empire Plan from a participating agency other than the Merrick Union Free School District" and directed the parties to negotiate, for the period from February 1, 2008, to April 30, 2009, a retroactive remedy to affected bargaining unit members”, the court concluded that this remedy was consistent with the broad power given to the arbitrator by the issues the parties agreed to submit to arbitration: (1) "[d]id the District violate Article II, Section B; Article XI, Section D and Article XXIII of the Collective Bargaining Agreement when it denied [NYSHIP] Health Insurance to bargaining unit members whose spouses are afforded [NYSHIP] coverage" and (2) "[I]f so, what shall be the remedy.

However, said the court, while the parties' stipulation purported to grant the arbitrator unfettered authority to fashion a remedy, the arbitrator's remedial powers are specifically limited by Article XXIII of the CBA, which provides, "[i]n the event any provision or provisions hereof are held to be unlawful, the remaining provisions of this Agreement shall remain in effect and the parties thereto shall meet [forthwith for] the purposes of modifying the same to conform with the law and/or negotiating provisions in lieu thereof.

The bottom line: the Appellate Division ruled that “The award was proper to the extent it directed the parties to negotiate a retroactive remedy for the period February 1, 2008, to April 1, 2009, as such relief is within the terms of Article XXIII of the CBA.” 

However, in contrast, the court said that the prospective relief in the arbitration award, which directed the district, as of May 1, 2009, to provide dual NYSHIP coverage or appropriate buyout compensation to bargaining unit members whose spouses are afforded NYSHIP coverage from a participating agency other than the School District, “exceeded the specifically enumerated limitation on the arbitrator's powers set forth in Article XXIII of the CBA,” concluding that Supreme Court properly vacated that portion of the award. 

The Appellate Division remitted the matter to the Supreme Court for an order directing the arbitrator to fashion a prospective remedy consistent with the determination in the arbitration award that (a) the Department of Civil Service’s Policy Memorandum 133 has the force and effect of law and (b) is in accordance with Article XXIII of the CBA.

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