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January 13, 2020

Guidelines followed controlling the judicial review of an arbitrator's ruling

A labor union [Union] representing employees of a public library [Union] filed a grievance, alleging that the Board of Trustees of the library [Board] violated an article of the parties' collective bargaining agreement [CBA] by failing to retroactively correct a salary inequality between the library employees and certain employees of the city. The CBA article in question, refer to as the "pay parity provision," required the Board to "actively pursue" funding "to maintain the historic link between the salaries of the library employees and the relevant employees of the city represented by the Union and such funding was to be applied retroactively if necessary "to correct an inequality."

The grievance procedure set out in the CBA did not resolve the dispute and the parties submitted to an arbitrator to determine if the Board violated the pay parity provision of the CBA, as well as the question of, if a violation was found, what was the appropriate remedy. After a hearing, the arbitrator determined that the Board had violated the provision of the CBA relied on by the Union, and that the Library employees were therefore entitled to a retroactive salary increase. The arbitrator then directed that the retroactive salary increase would be conditioned upon excision of the pay parity provision from the CBA going forward.

The Board initiated a CPLR Article 75 to vacate the portion of the arbitration award which called for excision of the pay parity provision from the CBA. Supreme Court granted the petition and remitted the matter to a different arbitrator for a new hearing and determination of the manner and timing of the "parity payments." The Board then appealed the Supreme Court's ruling.

The Appellate Division, affirming the lower court's ruling, explained that "[J]udicial review of arbitration awards is extremely limited", citing Wien & Malkin LLP v Helmsley-Spear, Inc., 6 NY3d 471, and courts may only vacate an arbitrator's award on the grounds specified in CPLR §7511(b). As the Board had advanced as its ground for vacatur under that statute "an excess of power," the court further explained that an arbitrator's award may only be vacated where it "violates a strong public policy, is irrational or clearly exceeds a specifically enumerated limitation on the arbitrator's power," citing Matter of New York City Tr. Auth. v Transport Workers' Union of Am., Local 100, AFL-CIO, 6 NY3d 332.

Supreme Court had concluded:

1. The Union's interpretation of the pay parity provision was correct;

2. The CBA provision had been violated;

3. A retroactive salary increase for employees in the Union's collective bargaining unit was warranted; but

4. The arbitrator exceeded his power by essentially rewriting the parties' contract by eliminating the "pay parity provision going forward."

As the Appellate Division agreed with the lower court's findings and its determination vacating the portion of the arbitration award that conditioned relief upon excision of the pay parity provision from the CBA and remitting the matter to a different arbitrator for a new hearing and determination on limited issues, it sustained the lower court's rulings.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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