Non-Member Fails To Follow Grievance Procedure, Loses Termination Case

David Luginbuhl was a full-time police officer for the Gallup, New Mexico Police Department from October 27, 2007, until his termination on June 8, 2011. The City has recognized the Gallup Police Officer’s Association as the exclusive collective bargaining representative for officers and sergeants. Luginbuhl chose not to join the Association, did not pay dues, and never sought the assistance of the Association.

The contract between the Association and the City contains a disciplinary clause as well as a grievance procedure culminating in binding arbitration. When Luginbuhl was fired, he filed a grievance challenging his termination. However, he elected not to follow through with the fourth and final step of the grievance procedure – arbitration. Instead, claiming he was not bound by the contract because of his non-Association status, he brought a lawsuit against the City.

The New Mexico Court of Appeals rejected the lawsuit. The Court found that Luginbuhl was a public employee, working for a public employer, and was thus subject to the grievance procedure in the contract.

Luginbuhl argued that since he was not a member of the Association, he was not covered by the arbitration clause in the contract. The Court disagreed, finding that “Luginbuhl’s contention that, as a non-Association member of the bargaining unit, he is not bound by the agreement to arbitrate disputes is refuted by the plain language of the collective bargaining law. It is also at odds with the long-standing reasoning of the United States Supreme Court, which has stated that the labor organization chosen to be the representative of the craft or class of employees is thus chosen to represent all of its members, regardless of their Association affiliations or want of them.

“It is undisputed that Luginbuhl is a member of the bargaining unit that negotiated the contract, including its valid arbitration clause, with the City. For decades, both New Mexico case law and federal labor jurisprudence have recognized that the terms and conditions of a contract, including arbitration clauses, apply to all members of the bargaining unit. We therefore conclude that Luginbuhl is bound by the requirement of the contract as well as the PEBA and that a grievance challenging the termination of employment is subject to binding arbitration.”

Luginbuhl v. City of Gallup, 2013 WL 1223688 (N.M. App. 2013).