Several recent decisions of the District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia address issues involving coal industry arbitration awards as the parties sought to confirm or vacate them.
Maintenance or construction
Two cases turned on whether the arbitrator correctly determined whether the work that was the subject of the grievance involved construction or maintenance. Generally speaking maintenance work could not be contracted out while, with certain exceptions, construction work could.
In The Harrison County Coal Company v. UMWA and Local 1501 the Court confirmed an award of Arbitrator Thomas Hewitt. Arbitrator Hewitt had found that construction of a belt drive in a new section of the mine was more properly categorized as Maintenance work. In doing so he relied on a prior settlement between the parties that “recognized that belt drive installation work customarily performed at the Robinson Run Mine is classified work.”
The Company sought to vacate the award, claiming that the Arbitrator exceeded his authority and substituted his own brand of industrial justice for the provisions if the cba. The Court rejected this claim, concluding “by focusing on the 2002 Settlement, the Arbitrator was not ignoring contractual language or applying his own notions of industrial justice. Recognizing the Court’s extremely limited role in reviewing labor arbitrators’ decisions, the Courts finds that the Arbitrator’s decision draws it essence from the Agreement.”
An Employer who regulates/reduces the size of the workforce and assigns work that is unable to be performed within its self-imposed time limit if it uses only its current fully employed classified employees creates an “impossibility of performance” situation. If this Employer then relies upon Article A l, subsection (1) as authority to utilize sub-contractors to perform work customarily performed by classified employees, the Employer is circumventing the intent of the contract under Article I. This use of abuse of authority cannot then be relied upon as a reason to permit the use of outside contractors even when all classified employees are fully employed working no less than five (5) days a week, Obviously, this is not the intent of the drafters of the contract and this self-imposed scheduling may not be used to circumvent the intent and purpose of the NBCWA or diminish the use of the workforce under Article I.
Remedies for improper contracting – Confirmed, vacated, remanded
It is not necessary to reach or decide the issues raised by the parties as there was no financial loss to the employees in this case. As held by me in Blacksville No. 2 Mine, Case 07-31-09-040, I strongly believe in the principle of “no harm, no foul.” See ex. Sterling Winthrop Research Institute, FMCS 86K/07572; Wisconsin Public Corp., 52 LA 1028. Since Grievants suffered no financial harm, there is nothing to be remedied.
The arbitration award issued here is entitled to significant deference, and the Court will not substitute its own judgment based on Plaintiffs’ preference for an arbitration award with a less-casual statement of a long-standing legal principle.
A somewhat similar issue was addressed in the Court’s decision in Monongalia Coal Company v. UMWA and Local 1702. That case involved a challenge to the award of Arbitrator Ralph Colflesh. Arbitrator Colflesh found that the Company had improperly contracted work which should have been performed by the bargaining unit. However, he also found that no identifiable unit employee had suffered economic harm. Rejecting the Company’s argument that there are some contractual violations that must go without remedy, he provided for an alternate remedy:
Based on the foregoing, I join Arbitrator Drucker in awarding damages to the Union for the breech [sic], and concur with the principle implied in her award that in general every sustained grievance must have some remedy. At the same time, I depart from any thinking that Union members should rewarded for not working when they had the opportunity. Rather, remedial compensation in this case should go to the Union only for the costs of prosecuting this grievance. Such costs shall be reasonable and shall be based on the documented fees, if any, the Union’s legal team billed for the preparation of the grievance as well as the documented per hour cost of the work of Mr. Frey, who represented the Union here, that was spent preparing and presenting the case. The latter amount shall be calculated on his hourly salary as a Union staff member and based on a 40-hour work week. The cost shall not include any costs of witnesses, nor shall it include the Union’s share of the undersigned’s fees and expenses, as those must contractually be divided equally by the parties.
The Company sought vacate the award, and the District Court granted that request. Finding the ordered remedy beyond what was authorized by the cba, the Court concluded:
Arbitrator Drucker’s award, referenced by Arbitrator Colflesh, can be found here. That award was also subject to a petition to vacate, but the Court remanded the case to the Arbitrator for clarification as to how she determined the remedy. here.
The evidence discloses the number of contractor employees and the number of hours they worked on each day in issue. There are more Grievants than there were contractor employees on any of the days involved. The easiest, but perhaps not the fairest, method for allocating damages would be to award a pro rata share to each of the Grievants. This, however, would ignore individual considerations as to which individuals likely would have worked on particular days, or whether particular Grievants were or were not available on particular days.
After considering the arguments and the evidence, the Arbitrator found that it was more appropriate to categorize the work as “performing repairs, although extensive repairs,” because many original components were reused. ECF No. 11-4 at 8. The Arbitrator then found, based on evidence presented, “that the repairs performed by the contractor were and are normally and customarily performed by bargaining unit employees.” Id. at 9. He did so based on careful analysis of the contract and the evidence presented at the hearing.
Further, there are no grounds to overturn the Arbitrator’s monetary award. The Arbitrator left the issue of damages up to the Parties to distribute, while retaining jurisdiction in case the parties cannot agree. The monetary award is clearly aimed to compensate because it left the issue of damages to the parties to decide. Further, as Defendants have noted, it “granted only the amount of time directly related to the amount of work performed by contractors.” ECF No. 17 at 13. Because the NBCWA is silent as to an appropriate remedy, it is within the Arbitrator’s discretion to select one, and the Court finds that this Award draws its essence from the NBCWA.
In The Ohio Valley Coal Company v. UMWA the Court vacated an award of Arbitrator Mollie Bowers that had found the Company in violation of its cba. The Court summarized the somewhat complicated facts as follows:
Ohio Valley formerly operated the Powhatan No. 6 Mine (“Mine”) in Belmont County, Ohio. Defendant United Mine Workers of America, District 31 represented all bargaining unit employees of the Mine since it was constructed and commenced operation in 1972. The 2016 National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement (“NBCWA”) governs the terms and conditions of employment for all bargaining unit employees at the Mine.
The Mine was in operation through exhaustion of its coal reserves with production permanently ceasing on October 16, 2016. Ohio Valley finished processing mined coal from the Mine on December 15, 2016, and it was permanently sealed on December 31, 2016. The Mine, which once employed nearly 500, was staffed by only 16 classified employees when the underlying grievance was filed….
In 2001, an unrelated subsidiary of Murray Energy Corporation, American Energy Corporation, opened the Century Mine to mine a coal reserve contiguous with the Mine. Ohio Valley has no ownership interest in the Century Mine and the UMWA does not represent any employees at the Century Mine.
On July 15, 2002, Ohio Valley and American Energy Corporation entered into a Slurry Disposal Agreement. Ohio Valley licensed rights to dispose of coal slurry materials to American Energy Corporation in the impoundment on property formerly associated with the Mine…. Pursuant to the terms of the agreement, American Energy Corporation retains sole responsibility for the transportation of its slurry materials to the impoundment…. Ohio Valley did grant an easement and right-of-way entry onto its property for installation and maintenance of the necessary pipeline. … American Energy continued to dispose of its slurry materials in the impoundment as of briefing in this matter.