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Appellate court reverses trial court in union labor dispute

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed a trial court that had determined an arbitrator exceeded his powers when he found in favor of a labor union.

In Ayanna Wright and American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 62, Local 4009, AFL-CIO v. City of Gary, Indiana, No. 45A04-1107-PL-362, an arbitrator found that Ayanna Wright was entitled to “bump into” a job held by someone with less seniority when her job was eliminated, per terms of a collective bargaining agreement.  

The City of Gary and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 62, Local 4009, had a CBA that allowed this “bumping” procedure. Wright was a city employee and president of the Local 4009 when she was informed in 2008 that her job was being eliminated due to budgetary concerns. She elected to “bump into” an administrative assistant job held by Pamela Oliver. Oliver was an administrative assistant for the Gary Fire Civil Service Commission.

But according to Gary City Ordinance 6243, the CBA does not cover employees who have unrestricted access to confidential personnel files, as Oliver did.

Wright applied for Oliver’s job and was determined to be qualified, but a human resources manager said the city would not hire her for that job, based on ordinance 6243. Wright filed a grievance through the union, and the city and union entered arbitration, per terms of the CBA.

At the evidentiary hearing before the arbitrator, the city claimed for the first time that Oliver’s hire date was earlier than Wright’s, and the attorney for the GFCSC cited Gary City Ordinance 5882, which allows it to select its own administrative assistant.

The COA wrote that the arbitrator’s findings that the GFCSC’s administrative assistant position was covered by the CBA and that Wright had greater seniority for bumping were a proper exercise of his powers, and he did not exceed his powers by ordering Wright to be placed in Oliver’s position. “The trial court essentially conducted an improper de novo review and erred by concluding that Arbitrator Archer exceeded his powers merely because he did not reach the same conclusion as the trial court,” the appellate court wrote in its opinion.

Judge Cale Bradford dissented, writing, “In my view, the City can challenge the underlying CBA on appeal just like any other contract, and if it runs afoul of Ordinance 5882, we should refuse to enforce it to that extent.”


 

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