October 19, 2017

Determining the scope of a grievance/arbitration clause set out in a collective bargaining agreement

Determining the scope of a grievance/arbitration clause set out in a collective bargaining agreement
Thousand Is. Cent. Sch. Dist. v Thousand Is. Educ. Assn., 2017 NY Slip Op 06759, Appellate Division, Fourth Department

The Thousand Island Central School District [District] and the Thousand Island Education Association [Association] entered into a collective bargaining agreement [CBA] that provided for the arbitration of "any alleged violation of this agreement or any dispute with respect to its meaning or application."

The Association filed a grievance on behalf of one of its members [Teacher] alleging that the District had violated the provisions of the CBA that require the District to maintain salary schedules in an ethical manner, to adjust teacher salaries based on graduate credits earned, and to abide by the salary schedules.

The Association alleged that when Teacher was hired the District mistakenly placed her on the salary schedule without properly taking into account the graduate credits that she had earned and, as a result of that error, Teacher had been underpaid since the effective date of Teacher's employment by the District.

In response to the Association's demand for arbitration of the grievance the District commenced a CPLR Article 75 proceeding seeking a permanent stay of arbitration. In response to the District's action, the Association cross-moved to compel arbitration.

Supreme Court denied the Association's cross motion to compel arbitration. The Association appealed and the Appellate Division reversed and directed the parties to proceed to arbitration.

The Appellate Division again applied the two-part test used by the courts to determine whether a matter is subject to arbitration under a CBA, finding, first, that there was no statutory, constitutional or public policy prohibition against arbitration of the grievance.*

Turning to the second test, the Appellate Division decided that "the parties in fact agreed to arbitrate the particular dispute" as there is a reasonable relationship between the subject matter of the dispute and the general subject matter of the CBA.

With respect to second prong of the test, the court said "[t]he dispute concerns whether [the District] placed Teacher at the correct step of the salary schedule and paid her properly based on the graduate credits that she earned, and thus it is reasonably related to the general subject matter of the CBA." In view of this, "it is the role of the arbitrator, and not the court, to make a more exacting interpretation of the precise scope of the substantive provisions of the CBA, e.g. does the scope of the CBA's grievance provisions encompass "the initial placement of a new employee on the salary schedule, as opposed to the proper payment of an existing employee, and whether the subject matter of the dispute fits within them?"

* The District conceded that arbitrating grievance concerning salaries to be paid to individuals is not proscribed by law or public policy and thus only the second prong test was at issue.

The decision is posted on the Internet at: