8th Cir. Backs Enforcement of Arbitration Award

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By Lawrence E. Dubé

July 28 — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit July 28 held an arbitrator acted within his authority under a collective bargaining agreement in awarding additional pay to a group of Missouri call center employees who temporarily performed the job functions of a higher-rated job classification.

SBC Advanced Solutions Inc. challenged the arbitration award in an action under Section 301 of the Labor-Management Relations Act, but a district court granted summary judgment in favor of Communications Workers of America District 6. Writing for the appeals court, Judge Lavenski R. Smith affirmed.

Smith said the arbitrator properly considered the language of the collective bargaining agreement and the parties' bargaining history in reaching a decision. The arbitrator determined the call center workers were “qualified” to perform higher-level work of service representatives that carried a higher pay rate, even if they had not been “test qualified” for the higher-paid jobs.

Disagreement Over Pay for Service Work

According to the court, SBC Advanced Solutions was formed as a subsidiary of SBC Communications Inc. to facilitate entry into the high-speed Internet market. District 6 represented employees of both companies under a single contract, including call center employees at Earth City, Mo., who were classified as customer service representatives (CSRs) and service representatives.

Customer service representatives primarily worked with customer calls concerning trouble tickets and service troubleshooting, Smith said, while the higher-paid service representatives primarily worked on “order-related duties” including customer requests for new service.

District 6 filed a grievance in November 2008 after Advanced Solutions gave 20 CSRs computer training and then assigned them much of the same work the service representatives performed. The union argued its collective bargaining agreement required additional pay for employees who performed two or more full tours of work in a week in a job with a higher established maximum pay rate.

The contract provision only applied to employees who were “qualified” for the assignments, and Advanced Solutions argued that the pay differential only applied to employees who had been “test qualified” and shown to be eligible for promotion to the higher-rated jobs.

Company Challenged Arbitrator's Award

An arbitrator disagreed with the company, and said Advanced Solutions “qualified” the workers when it made a “cognitive selection” of employees it considered capable of performing the duties of service representatives.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri enforced the award (2014 BL 243945, 200 LRRM 3643 (E.D. Mo. 2014)), and Advanced Solutions appealed.

The employer argued in the Eighth Circuit that the arbitrator failed to base his award on the parties' intent and failed to give adequate consideration to prior arbitration decisions interpreting the same contract language. But Smith said the trial court properly rejected the challenges. The arbitrator did consider the parties' bargaining history and intent, the appeals court said, and he had considerable leeway in determining how much weight to assign to prior decisions.

Eighth Circuit Backs Enforcement

The appeals court said the arbitrator should have explained his departure from one arbitral precedent, but Smith wrote that error was not sufficient to require vacating the award as long as the arbitrator's interpretation drew its essence from the collective bargaining agreement.

Judge Smith found the arbitrator properly considered the language of the CBA and the parties' bargaining history in determining call center workers were “qualified” to perform higher-level work of service representatives that carried a higher pay rate, even if they had not been “test qualified” for the higher-paid jobs.

The arbitrator concluded the Earth City CSRs performed work that was part of a service representative's job, and Smith said that assessment drew its essence from the language of the contract.

The appeals court declined to vacate the award and affirmed the judgment of the lower court.

Judges Kermit E. Bye and Patrick J. Schiltz joined in the opinion.

Littler Mendelson P.C. represented SBC Advanced Solutions Inc. David Van Ost Associates represented Communications Workers of America District 6.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lawrence E. Dubé in Washington at ldube@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

Text of the opinion is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/SBC_Advanced_Solutions_Inc_Plaintiff__Appellant_v_Communications_.