Staying a grievance arbitration

Staying a grievance arbitrationNewfield CSD v Newfield Teachers Asso., 258 AD2d 845, motion to appeal denied, 93 NY2d 809 Newfield Central School District subcontracted with BOCES to staff various positions. In July 1997, the Newfield Central School Teachers Association filed a grievance alleging that the district had violated its collective bargaining agreement with the teachers association. The superintendent denied the grievance, and the school board affirmed that ruling on administrative appeal. The teachers next filed a demand for arbitration. The district, however, obtained a stay from a state Supreme Court justice barring arbitration because the collective bargaining agreement was silent as to the district's right to subcontract. The Supreme Court reasoned that absent clear contractual basis for arbitration on such an issue, the Teachers Association's grievance was not arbitrable. The teachers appealed to the Appellate Division. In a 4 to 1 ruling, the Appellate Division, Third Department, agreed with the lower court. The court applied a two-part test set out in Liverpool CSD v United Liverpool Faculty Asso., 42 NY2d 509. The first test was whether subject of the arbitration claim was prohibited under the Taylor Law (Civil Service Law Section 200 et seq.) For instance, issues involving strong public policy typically are not subject to arbitration. The court said the BOCES subcontracting issue was not prohibited under the Taylor Law. Having passed the first test, the next question was whether the parties had agreed by the terms of their collective bargaining agreement to submit this type of dispute to arbitration. No, said the court. Courts are likely to deny arbitration of a grievance unless the language of the arbitration clause in a collective bargaining agreement specifically provides for such arbitration. To determine whether an issue sought to be arbitrated falls within the ambit of an arbitration clause, a court is "to be guided by the principle that the agreement to arbitrate must be express, direct and unequivocal as to the issues or disputes to be submitted to arbitration; anything less will lead to denial of arbitration." In the Liverpool case, the Court of Appeals held: The Appellate Division said it may be appropriate for a school district and a teachers association to negotiate the degree to which a school district utilizes the resources available through BOCES. The court characterized the subject as a permissible, rather than a mandatory, subject of negotiation. Accordingly, said the court, it makes little sense to require the district, under the guise of a broad arbitration clause, to arbitrate a provision that it is not even required to negotiate. It ruled that in the absence of a valid and specific agreement between the parties clearly showing an intent to arbitrate claims arising out of subcontracting with BOCES, the district's application to stay arbitration was properly granted. The lesson here is that unless the contract arbitration provision specifically states that it is applicable to certain other, or all, controversies concerning issues not covered by the negotiated agreement arising between the parties during the life of the agreement, the courts usually will limit the scope of arbitration to those claims alleging a violation of a specified contract provision. In a dissenting opinion, Presiding Judge Ann Mikoll said that "for a public employment dispute to be arbitrable, it is not necessary that the parties have specifically addressed its subject matter and specifically agreed to arbitrate it. Rather, the focus must be solely upon the language of the parties' arbitration clause, and whether or not it extends to the particular dispute." Judge Mikoll said that she believed that "the instant dispute falls within the scope of the parties' broad arbitration clause, which extends to all 'claimed violations' thereof," and concluded that the matter should be resolved by arbitration. NYPPL

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