This case raises the question of whether the state, as a party to a collective bargaining agreement with a public sector employees' union, must accept as binding an award of an arbitrator that a state employee classified as a monthly laborer without civil service tenure was discharged without just cause. Only the issue of arbitrability is before us. We hold that under the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the state, the arbitrator did not exceed his powers in reaching the merits of the dispute over the employee's discharge and accordingly reverse the decision of the district court vacating the arbitrator's award.
The employee, Euclid Berthiaume, was seasonally employed during the years 1970 to 1975 as a monthly laborer by the Department of Natural Resources at the division of forestry headquarters known as the Cloquet Station. Prior to his discharge, he was a member of the Minnesota State Employees Union, AFSCME, Council No. 6, AFLCIO (union) and of a "bargaining unit" for which the union was its exclusive representative. Typically, the employee was hired in April of each year and was terminated the following January, a period of continuous monthly employment of approximately 9 months each year. Although his employment record shows a pattern of steady reemployment each year, it is undisputed that the employee did not acquire tenure rights as a classified civil service laborer since he never worked the required "ten months within a 12 month period."
At the time of the employee's discharge, the union was the exclusive representative of some 14,000 state employees who were members of various "bargaining units" and was a party to the first collective bargaining agreement with the state authorized by the Public Employment Labor Relations Act of 1971 (PELRA), Minn.St. 179.61 to 179.77. In essence, this act authorizes the union to enter into collective bargaining agreements with public employers, including the state, concerning the terms and conditions of employment. Included in the 1975 collective bargaining agreement between the union and the state were provisions governing the discipline and discharge
As we view the issue of arbitrability presented, two critical questions arise:
(1) May a court vacate an arbitrator's award under a public sector collective bargaining agreement upon a determination that the arbitrator exceeded his powers in interpreting and applying the terms of the agreement?
(2) Did the collective bargaining agreement empower the arbitrator to arbitrate the merits of the employee's discharge?
1. While labor disputes affecting private sector employees have historically been resolved by arbitration, at one time we expressed the view that the legislature did not intend arbitration to be available for use in the resolution of public sector employee
2. Where the issue of arbitrability is raised, the uniform act authorizes a party to the agreement to seek judicial relief either in proceedings to compel or stay arbitration under § 572.09, or after an arbitration award, in proceedings to vacate the award under § 572.19, subd. 1(3), on the ground that the "arbitrators exceeded their powers."
Traditionally, we have liberally interpreted and applied the uniform act, recognizing that its basic intent is—
See, also, Layne-Minnesota Co. v. Regents of the University, 266 Minn. 284, 123 N.W.2d 371 (1963). Consistent with this underlying policy and purpose, we have steadfastly held that the issue of arbitrability, when raised in judicial proceedings to compel or stay arbitrability, is to be determined by ascertaining the intention of the parties from the language of the arbitration agreement itself. Where the intention of the parties as to whether the dispute is arbitrable is reasonably debatable, the arbitrator should resolve the issue in the first instance subject to the right of a party to challenge the arbitrator's resolution in proceedings to vacate the award. Layne-Minnesota Co. v. Regents of the University, supra. Additional support for our belief that the "reasonably debatable" standard is consistent with the tenor of the uniform act is the expectation that where the arbitrator finds that the dispute is not arbitrable, or the converse, but decides the merits to the satisfaction of the objecting party, the result will be accepted without resort to the courts.
3-4. Until this appeal, we have not been called upon to resolve the issue of arbitrability in judicial proceedings to vacate an award on the ground that the arbitrator exceeded his powers in deciding the merits of the dispute.
We therefore hold, in furtherance of the policy and purpose of the uniform act, that only when it is established that an arbitrator has clearly exceeded his powers under the agreement to submit a dispute to arbitration must a court vacate an award.
5. In the case presented, the state's motion to vacate the arbitration award was submitted to the trial court upon a stipulation detailing only undisputed facts and the contentions of the parties. No oral testimony relevant to the intention of the parties to the collective bargaining agreement was submitted. However, the state in support of its contention submitted two affidavits by the state labor negotiator asserting that the "subject of having to show `just cause' to dismiss monthly laborers was never discussed" during the negotiations for the collective bargaining agreement and that the state did not intend to grant such "form of job protection to monthly laborers." The trial court, however, made no findings of fact as to the intention of the parties or findings in support of the labor negotiator's conclusionary assertion, instead basing its decision, so far as we can ascertain, upon an acceptance of the state's contention that the merits of the discharge were not arbitrable because the language of the collective bargaining agreement limited Step 4 binding arbitration only to "permanent" employees, and the employee was not so classified under relevant civil service statutes and rules.
We are unpersuaded that the arbitrator's decision to reach the merits violated any civil service statutes contained in Minn.St. c. 43 or the various administrative rules promulgated thereunder by the Department of Personnel. Section 43.09, subd. 7, giving tenure rights to labor service employees employed continuously 10 months out of 12, is an affirmative grant of tenure rights and could not support a negative inference in the face of the language of the collective bargaining agreement that an employee employed for the period he was in this case could be arbitrarily discharged without any cause whatsoever.
In the absence of a more explicit statutory limitation empowering an appointing authority to discharge an unclassified laborer without assigning any cause whatsoever, we hold that the union and employee in this case had a contractual right to pursue binding arbitration of the merits of the employee's discharge, and the arbitrator therefore did not clearly exceed his powers under the collective bargaining agreement.
OTIS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
"Employees in the labor service entitled to tenure rights under this subdivision shall be known as classified civil service laborers."
To the same effect, see Minn. Rule Persl. 9(a)(2), which provides in part: "Employees in the labor service who have been employed for a total of ten months in a period of twelve consecutive months shall be known as classified civil service laborers and shall receive the same tenure rights and benefits given other classified employees of the state not in the labor service."
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"Disciplinary action or measures shall include only the following:
"When any disciplinary action more severe than an oral reprimand is intended, the Appointing Authority shall, before or at the time such action is taken, notify the employee in writing of the specific reason(s) for such action.
"Section 2. DISCHARGE OF PERMANENT EMPLOYEES. The Appointing Authority shall not discharge any permanent employee without just cause. If, in any case, the Appointing Authority feels there is just cause for discharge, the employee will be suspended for five (5) days and the employee and the Local Union will be notified, in writing, that the employee is subject to discharge and shall be furnished with the reasons therefore.
"Section 3. RIGHT TO GRIEVE. The Union shall have the right to take up a suspension and/or discharge as a grievance at the third step of the grievance procedure and the matter shall be handled in accordance with this procedure through the arbitration step if deemed necessary.
"Section 4. PROBATIONARY EMPLOYEES. The Appointing Authority shall not dismiss or fail to certify a probationary employee without just cause. If the Appointing Authority feels there is just cause to dismiss or fail to certify an employee serving a probationary period, the employee will be notified in writing, with a copy to the Union, of the reason(s) for dismissal or non-certification. The Union shall have the right to process the action of the Appointing Authority as a grievance through Step 3 of the Grievance Procedure. Grievances regarding the dismissal of an employee serving an initial probationary period or regarding non-certification of an employee with permanent status in another classification are not subject to the arbitration provisions of Article XVII, (SETTLEMENT OF DISPUTES)." (Italics supplied.)
"Step 1: The Union Steward, with or without the employee, shall attempt to resolve the matter with the employee's immediate supervisor within twenty-one (21) calendar days after the employee, through the use of reasonable diligence, should have had knowledge of the first occurrence of the event giving rise to the grievance. The supervisor shall then attempt to resolve the matter and shall respond to the Steward within seven (7) calendar days.
"Step 2: If the grievance has not been resolved to the satisfaction of the Local Union within seven (7) calendar days after the immediate supervisor's response is due, it may be presented in writing by the Union Steward to the next level of supervision who has been designated by the Appointing Authority to process grievances. The written grievances shall state the nature of the grievance, the facts upon which it is based, the provision(s) of the Agreement allegedly violated, and the relief requested. The designated Employer Representative shall arrange a meeting with the Union Steward to discuss the grievance within five (5) calendar days. The Local Union President and/or Chief Steward may also participate in such meeting. A written response shall be forwarded to the Union Steward within seven (7) calendar days of the meeting.
"Step 3: If the grievance still remains unresolved, it may be presented to the Appointing Authority or designated representative by the Chief Steward within seven (7) calendar days after the Step 2 response is due. The Appointing Authority or designee shall arrange a meeting with the Chief Steward within five (5) calendar days. The Union Steward, Local Union President, and a Union staff representative may participate in such meeting. The Appointing Authority or designee shall respond to the Chief Steward in writing within seven (7) calendar days.
"Step 4: If the grievance is still unresolved after the response provided in Step 4 is due, the Union may within ten (10) calendar days serve notice of intent to submit the issue to arbitration by giving written notice to the Appointing Authority.
"The arbitration proceeding shall be conducted by an arbitrator to be selected by mutual agreement of the Appointing Authority and the Union within seven (7) calendar days after the request for such action. If the parties fail to mutually agree upon an arbitrator within the said seven (7) calendar day period, either party may request the Bureau of Mediation Services to provide a panel of five (5) arbitrators. Both the Appointing Authority and the Union shall have the right to strike two (2) names from the panel. The Union shall strike the first name, the State Negotiator shall then strike one (1) name, and the process will be repeated and the remaining person shall be the arbitrator. Expenses for the arbitrator's services and the proceedings shall be borne equally by the Appointing Authority and the Union, however, each party shall be responsible for compensating its own representatives and witnesses. If either party cancels an arbitration hearing or asks for a last minute postponement that leads to the arbitrator's making a charge, the cancelling party or the party asking for the postponement shall pay this charge. The decision of the arbitrator shall be final and binding upon the parties and the arbitrator shall be requested to issue his/her decision within thirty (30) calendar days after the conclusion of testimony and argument. If either party desires a verbatim record of the arbitration proceeding, it may cause such a record to be made, providing it pays for the record and makes a copy available without charge to the other party and the arbitrator.
"Section 2. ARBITRATOR'S AUTHORITY. The arbitrator shall have no right to amend, modify, nullify, ignore, add to, or subtract from the provisions of this Agreement. He/She shall consider and decide only the specific issue or issues submitted to him/her in writing by the parties to this Agreement, and shall have no authority to make a decision on any matter not so submitted to him/her. The arbitrator shall be without power to make decisions contrary to, inconsistent with, or modifying or varying in any way the application of laws, rules, or regulations having the force and effect of law. The decision shall be based solely upon the arbitrator's interpretation and application of the expressed terms of this Agreement and to the facts of the grievance presented." (Italics supplied.)