February 11, 2020

Portions of an arbitration award challenged as moot, exceeding the authority of the arbitrator and "nonfinal and indefinite"

In compliance with an arbitration award, the school district [District] appointed 16 teachers' aides. The District subsequently announced its intention to eliminate 5½ teaching positions for the 2017-2018 school year in order to offset the cost of employing these teachers' aides. 

The Teacher Federation [Union] filed a grievance in an effort to prevent the elimination of the teaching positions on the ground that District's intended conduct was retaliatory. An arbitrator issued an opinion which directed the District to "rescind its decision to eliminate . . . teaching positions . . . for the 2017-2018 school year." 

Citing Hearst Corp. v Clyne, 50 NY2d 707, the Appellate Division vacated this portion of the arbitrator's award explaining that it "is well established that an appeal will be considered moot unless the rights of the parties will be directly affected by the determination of the appeal and the interest of the parties is an immediate consequence of the judgment."

Because the 2017-2018 school year had concluded, said the court, a determination in this appeal would have no effect on the parties' rights.

The court also agreed with the District that the arbitrator had exceeded his authority by requiring it to make the elimination of teaching positions in accordance with the "School Based Development Guide", opining that an arbitration award may be vacated where an arbitrator, 'in effect, made a new contract for the parties in contravention of [an] explicit provision of [the] arbitration agreement which denied [the] arbitrator power to alter, add to or detract from" the collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Noting that the CBA does not require the District to make its staffing or budgetary decisions in accordance with the Guide,  the Appellate Division ruled that the arbitrator contravened an express provision in the CBA that denied him the "authority to modify or amend it." 

Finally, the District contended that a paragraph of the arbitration award was nonfinal and indefinite insofar as it directed that "[a]ny future elimination of teaching positions at [the affected school] as a result of hiring teacher aides must be narrowly tailored to meet the economic needs of [the District] and be applied in a Union membership neutral manner." 

The Appellate Division agreed, indicating that an award is nonfinal and indefinite if "it leaves the parties unable to determine their rights and obligations." The court said that here  the language in the award was "nonfinal and indefinite" except to the extent that it prohibited the District from discriminating on the basis of "Union membership status." 

Concluding that the Supreme Court had erred in confirming these parts of the arbitration award challenged by the District, the Appellate Division modified the order and judgment accordingly.

The decision is posted on the Internet at: