Arbitrator Exceeded Authority by Suggesting Remedy

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By Jon Steingart

May 13 — An arbitrator exceeded his authority when he found a Minnesota hospital didn't violate a collective bargaining agreement but then suggested a remedy intended to head off future violations, a federal appeals court ruled.

The decision shows “parties should be cautious to make sure the scope of what is requested is quite narrow” when submitting something to arbitration, Adam Kamp, labor counsel for the Minnesota Nurses Association, told Bloomberg BNA May 13.

If the arbitrator's decision were permitted to stand, nurses would work weekend schedules determined by the ruling rather than by the collective bargaining agreement between the union and management, Kamp said.

North Memorial Medical Center and the nurses association asked an arbitrator to review the hospital's decision that patient needs didn't permit it to honor a provision of the CBA that would guarantee Lynette Drake weekends off in recognition of her age and years of service.

The arbitrator agreed with the hospital's position, Judge C. Arlen Beam wrote in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit's May 13 decision. But he said the arbitrator went too far when he established “a prospective standard for evaluating patient care” to evaluate similar claims that may arise.

Judges Bobby E. Shepherd and Jane Kelly joined in the opinion.

Weekends Off Would Harm Patient Care, Hospital Says

The union's suggestions for ways the hospital could balance its patient obligations with giving Drake weekends off were unworkable, the arbitrator said. This meant the hospital didn't violate its obligation under the collective bargaining agreement because the pact allowed an exception if giving weekends off “would deprive patients of needed nursing service,” he said.

The hospital and the union have to work together to ensure safe patient care, the arbitrator said. “The most sensible, reasonable and fairest solution for future weekend scheduling” is for all nurses who meet the minimum age and years of service to equally share weekend work, he said.

The hospital and the union only intended for the arbitrator to come up with a remedy if he first concluded there was a CBA violation, Beam said. The arbitrator's proposal “effectively nullified other provisions of the CBA” that related to scheduling, Beam said.

The arbitrator went far beyond the scope of his authority when he “rewrote the CBA to remedy future, as-yet-ungrieved acts,” Beam said.

A spokeswoman for the hospital didn't respond by deadline.

Wachtler Law represented the union. Felhaber Larson represented the hospital.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jon Steingart in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at