Adjunct Law Prof Blog

Editor: Mitchell H. Rubinstein
New York Law School

Thursday, January 29, 2009

D.C. Cir. Issues Excellent Primer On Labor Arbitration

Dccir American Postal Workers v. U.S. Postal Service, ___F.3d___(D.C. Cir. Dec. 23, 2008), provides an excellent summary of how difficult it is to vacate an arbitration, that arbitration is a creature of the parties contract and even if the arbitrator makes a serious error, courts should not vacate the decision. As the court explained:

The 2003 Award is the arbitrator’s interpretation of the
CBA. As such, judicial review of the award is “extremely
limited,” and the award may not be overturned on the basis of
even a serious error if the arbitrator was “even arguably
construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope
of his authority.” Teamsters Local Union No. 61 v. United
Parcel Serv., Inc., 272 F.3d 600, 604 (D.C. Cir. 2001) (internal
quotation marks omitted) (emphasis in original). However, the
primary issue here is not whether the arbitrator properly
construed the CBA or exceeded his authority, but what the 2003
Award means. To answer that question, a court first looks to the
four corners of the award, for arbitration awards “may be made
without explanation of [the arbitrators’] reasons and without a
complete record of their proceedings.” Wilko v. Swan, 346 U.S.
427, 436 (1953); see Sargent v. Paine Webber Jackson & Curtis,
Inc., 882 F.2d 529, 532 (D.C. Cir. 1989).
An arbitration award, as a conceptual matter, is to be
“treated as though it were a written stipulation by the parties
setting forth their own definitive construction of the contract.”
Cole v. Burns Int’l Sec. Servs., 105 F.3d 1465, 1475 (D.C. Cir.
997) (quoting Theodore J. St. Antoine, Judicial Review of
Labor Arbitration Awards: A Second Look at Enterprise Wheel
and its Progeny, 75 MICH L. REV. 1137, 1140 (1977) (footnote
omitted)); see Am. Postal Workers Union v. United States Postal
Serv., 789 F.2d 1, 6-7 (D.C. Cir. 1986). Thus, the interpretation
of an arbitration award is, like the interpretation of a contract,
primarily a question of law, see O'Hara v. District No. 1-PCD,
56 F.3d 1514, 1522 (D.C. Cir. 1995), and like a contract,
analysis of what an arbitration award means must begin with its
text, see id. at 1523; cf. also Am. Fed’n of Gov’t Employees,
Local 2924 v. Fed. Labor Relations Auth., 470 F.3d 375, 381
(D.C. Cir. 2006). Because we conclude that the 2003 Award is
unambiguous on its face, we need not decide under what
circumstances a court may appropriately look to the arbitral
record to resolve an ambiguity and thereby render the award
enforceable, see, e.g., Ethyl Corp v. United States Steelworkers
of Am., 768 F.2d 180, 188 (7th Cir. 1985).

Mitchell H. Rubinstein

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Good reason to return all matters to Article III courts-all work related matters.

Posted by: JR | Jan 31, 2009 7:40:39 AM

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