Superior Court Reverses RI Labor Relations Board in Warwick Schools Case

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RI Superior Court has ruled that the State Labor Relations Board erred in ordering the Warwick School Committee to seek arbitration with the Warwick Teachers Union under the conditions of the expired contract. As report by the Warwick Post:

In May 2016, the State Labor Relations Board ruled the Warwick School Committee had engaged in unfair labor practices by failing to arbitrate WTU grievances under their contract, an extension of which expired Aug. 31, 2015. The Board originally ordered the School Committee to “cease and desist from refusing to participate in the processing of grievances, including proceeding to arbitration.”

The next day, the WTU filed a motion to amend the decision to maintain the terms and conditions of the contract until a new contract was settled, which the State Labor Relations Board granted without further hearings.

“The Board issued its Amended Decision in this case on the Union’s motion without further hearing. The School Committee, it appears, was provided no opportunity to present for the Board’s consideration the particulars of any proposed departures from the terms of the expired CBA, along with its reasons why it should not be constrained by the Board’s status quo rule. In doing so, the Board acted arbitrarily and erroneously,” Gallo wrote.

The key point lay in the timeline of the items that the WTU sought to arbitrate: in short, they came after the contract had expired and therefore did not fall under the old contract.  As Judge Gallo explained:

“The Court’s review was limited to whether the layoff grievances were arbitrable,” Gallo wrote in his decision. The Supreme Court, he said, “held the obligation to arbitrate a grievance survives expiration of a CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) only where the grievance arises under the contract.”

“Unlike in Litton, where the employer refused to discuss or participate in any grievance process with the union regarding the layoffs, here, the School Committee did engage with the Union regarding the two grievances filed after the expiration of the contract. See 501 U.S. at 194-95. There is simply no evidence in the record to support a finding of bad faith bargaining in violation of § 28-7-13(6) and (10). Under the circumstances, the Board erred in concluding that the School Committee committed an unfair labor practice,” Gallo wrote.

“After review of the entire record, this Court finds the Amended Decision of the Board was clearly erroneous based on the evidence of record. Substantial rights of theSchool Committee have been prejudiced. Accordingly, the Amended Decision of the Board is reversed,” Gallo ordered.



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