June 16, 2021

Determining if a grievance involving a provision in a collective bargaining agreement is subject to arbitration

Supreme Court denied the petitioner's [Employer] CPLR §7503 application to permanently stay arbitration of a grievance between the Employer and the employee organization [Union] initiated pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement [CBA] between the parties. The grievance involved determining the correct amount of the employees' contributions for health insurance coverage. 

Although the Employer contended the grievance was not subject to arbitration, Supreme Court held that the grievance was arbitrable. Employer appealed the ruling.

Observing that the court's role in reviewing applications to stay arbitration is limited, the Appellate Division explained that the threshold issue is to determine whether the subject matter of the grievance is arbitrable. This, said the court, involves a two-part inquiry into whether there is [1] "any statutory, constitutional or public policy prohibition against arbitration of the grievance" and if no such prohibition is found, whether [2] the parties in fact "agreed to arbitrate the particular dispute" by examining the relevant collective bargaining agreement.

Noting that the Employer did not contend that arbitration of the grievance was prohibited by law or public policy, the court said that its inquiry distills to whether the parties agreed to arbitrate this particular grievance.

In the words of the Appellate Division, "[if] the CBA contains a broad arbitration clause, 'an agreement to arbitrate will be found by the court as long as there is a reasonable relationship between the subject matter of the dispute and the general subject matter of the CBA'".

Citing the relevant provisions set out in the CBA, the Appellate Division opined that as the grievance involves health insurance benefits, which are an employee benefit and an express provision of the CBA, the "grievance falls within the scope of disputes that the parties agreed to submit to arbitration." Further, the fact that the substantive clauses of the contract might not support the grievances is irrelevant on the threshold question of arbitrability and "it] is for the arbitrator, and not the courts, to resolve any uncertainty concerning the substantive rights and obligations of the parties."

Addressing the Employer additional argument in support of dismissing the Union's Article 75 petition contending that the grievance was untimely filed, the Appellate Division said "[A]ny argument concerning compliance with the grievance process, including any time limitations thereunder, is likewise a matter for the arbitrator to decide".

Accordingly, the Appellate Division concluded that Supreme Court properly denied the Employer's application to permanently stay arbitration.

Click HERE to access the Appellate Division's decision.

 

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