Guiding Principles of Arbitration

Parties selecting a labor arbitrator may be interested in that arbitrator’s approach to the issues in a particular case. While the arbitration process is informal, and does not easily accommodate to hard and fast rules, I have recognized and applied a number of principles in reaching my decisions:

  1. Arbitration is an integral part of the collective bargaining process, and the arbitrator should always be faithful to the contract terms the parties have negotiated for themselves.
  2. Management rights should be respected.
  3. The term “just cause” in employee discipline cases is essentially subjective, and as such may not be susceptible to a universal set of “tests.” If the evidence establishes that the alleged misconduct took place; that it was either covered by a rule or inherently wrongful; and procedural safeguards were satisfied; the requirement of “just cause” is usually satisfied.
  4. There is a great deal of evidentiary difference between a “binding past practice” and mere “past precedent.” In the former, conclusive evidence of universal acceptance and application is required, to the extent that the practice may be said to have become an (unwritten) term of the contract. “Past precedent” on the other hand, is simply evidence of various occasions in which the parties acted a certain way; and while such evidence may serve to guide the arbitrator, it does not rise to the level of a binding term of the contract.
  5. All workplaces are different; consequently all arbitration cases are unique to the circumstances. The standards and expectations in one particular industry (retail, for example) may be vastly different from those of another industry (such as manufacturing). This principle is generally applicable in employee discipline cases.
  6. An Arbitrator must consider the likely impact of his/her decision on the parties’ relationship, and on the workplace. That is, the Arbitrator should make every effort to “do no harm.”

There is no such thing as a “routine” arbitration. A Labor arbitration award can impact lives and businesses. It is a serious matter, and should always be viewed as such by the arbitrator and the parties.

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