Third Circuit Addresses Interplay Between LMRA and FAA and Affirms Arbitration Award in Favor of Union Under Collective Bargaining Agreement

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The case relates to the disposition of accrued vacation time of unionized nurses after a new employer (Prospect) assumed a collective bargaining agreement. Prospect construed the collective bargaining agreement differently than the prior employer and refused to allow more than 200% of the annual vacation time limit. An arbitrator ultimately decided in favor of the nurses’ ability to maintain the full amounts of their previously accrued vacation time, determining that the collective bargaining agreement did not curtail the nurses’ right to the full amount of their accumulated leave. The arbitrator further found that Prospect assumed the collective bargaining agreement and that Prospect, therefore, was obligated to honor the excess accumulated leave. After the district court upheld the arbitration award, Prospect appealed to the Third Circuit.

As an initial matter, the Third Circuit found that Prospect’s attempt to vacate the award was timely, rejecting the union’s argument that the state 30-day statute of limitations period authorized by the Labor Management Relations Act applied. Because Prospect was entitled to sue under the Federal Arbitration Act, which applies to collective bargaining agreements, it could rely on the lengthier three-month limitations period of the FAA.

Next, the Third Circuit rejected Prospect’s three arguments attempting to show that the award should be vacated under the FAA. First, the court rejected Prospect’s argument that the award was in excess of the arbitrator’s powers because the arbitrator failed to arguably interpret the collective bargaining agreement. The court found that the arbitrator’s ruling could be supported by a canon of contract construction and that “[w]hether or not that is the best reading of the CBA, it is certainly sufficient to uphold the arbitrator’s award.” Second, the court rejected Prospect’s argument that the arbitrator manifestly disregarded federal labor law pertaining to successor employers. Because the arbitrator “did not foreclose the possibility that Prospect, as a successor employer, could have, as an initial condition of employment, capped the nurses’ carry-over of vacation time” but, instead, found only that there was “no evidence that Prospect did so in time” it was not a manifest disregard of the principles of successor employment. And third, the court rejected Prospect’s argument that the arbitrator was guilty of misconduct in “refusing to hear evidence pertinent and material to the controversy” about a similar National Labor Relations Board decision in a different case. The Third Circuit ruled that the evidentiary ruling was “not patently incorrect,” and it was “certainly not an error that deprived Prospect of a fair hearing.” The Third Circuit, therefore, affirmed the order confirming the award.

Prospect CCMC LLC v. Crozer-Chester Nurses Association, Nos. 19-1439 & 19-1440 (3d Cir. Feb. 26, 2020).

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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