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Monday, July 20, 2015

Determining if an alleged violation of a collective bargaining agreement may be submitted to arbitration


Determining if an alleged violation of a collective bargaining agreement may be submitted to arbitration
Matter of Board of Educ. of the Catskill Cent. Sch. Dist. (Catskill Teachers Assn.), 2015 NY Slip Op 06190, Appellate Division, Third Department

The Board of Education of the Catskill Central School District [Board] and the Catskill Teachers Association [Association] were parties to a collective bargaining agreement [CBA] that was in effect during the relevant time period.

The Board filed grant applications with the State Education Department seeking funding for a universal prekindergarten program pursuant to Education Law §3602-e. In anticipation of the award of funds, the Board entered into a contract with a private sector instruction provider to retain the services of a prekindergarten teacher. The Association submitted a grievance alleging that the Board had violated the terms of the CBA by failing to “post the position” and appointing an individual “who was not a member” of the Association without its consent. The Board denied the grievance and the Association demanded that the matter be submitted to arbitration.

The Board filed an application with Supreme Court pursuant to CPLR Article 75 seeking a court order staying the arbitration. The Association, in response, filed a motion to compel arbitration. Supreme Court, finding the dispute was subject to arbitration, granted the Association’s motion. The Board appealed Supreme Court’s ruling, contending that arbitration of the subject matter of the dispute is barred by Education Law §3602-e and public policy.

The Appellate Division commenced its review of the Board’s appeal by noting that determining whether the subject matter of a dispute is arbitrable involves a two-step inquiry. The first test is “whether there is any statutory, constitutional or public policy prohibition against arbitration of the grievance.” If no such prohibition is found, does it meet a second test: “whether the parties agreed to submit the subject matter of the dispute to arbitration.”

The court noted that "[I]n order to overcome the strong [s]tate policy favoring the bargaining of terms and conditions of employment, any implied intention that there not be mandatory negotiation must be plain and clear or inescapably implicit in the statute."

Rejecting the Board’s contention to the contrary, the Appellate Division said that language set out in §3602-e does not suggest a legislative intent “that school districts be given wholly unfettered freedom to disavow existing, bargained-for contractual agreements for the purpose of entering into contracts with outside agencies for prekindergarten instructional services.” A more natural reading of §3602-e, said the court, supports a finding that the statute permits school districts to enter into such contracts, without in any way necessarily affecting the enforceability of a bargained-for agreement to secure such services through a CBA nor did the Appellate Division find that there was any intention by the Legislature to "prohibit, in an absolute sense" the arbitrability of the subject matter of the Association’s grievance.

Having found that there was no statutory, constitutional or public policy prohibition to submitting the Association’s grievance to arbitration, the Appellate Division addressed the second test: did the parties agreed to submit the subject matter of the dispute to arbitration.

The court found that the both Association’s grievance and the CBA concern the procedures that the Board must follow in hiring new employees, as well as the terms and conditions of employment. Noting that the Board contended that the absence of any specific reference to prekindergarten teachers in the CBA indicating that the parties did intend to bind themselves to arbitration on this subject, the Appellate Division ruled that "[t]he question of the scope of the substantive provisions of the contract is itself a matter of contract interpretation and application, and hence it must be deemed a matter for resolution by the arbitrator."

Finding “a reasonable relationship” between the subject matter of the CBA and the dispute at issue, the Appellate Division sustained the Supreme Court’s ruling requiring the dispute to be submitted to arbitration.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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