Arbitrator Should Decide Whether Discipline Grievance Is Arbitrable

The Village of Bartonville, Illinois and Policemen’s Benevolent Labor Committee are parties to a collective bargaining agreement. The Village terminated Officer Salvador Lopez for violating Police Department procedures in July 2014 when he allegedly drew his firearm during a traffic stop and pointed it at the motorist involved, without proper grounds for doing so. The Committee filed a grievance challenging the termination, but the Village refused to proceed to arbitration, taking the position that disciplinary grievances were not subject to arbitration under the labor contract.

The Illinois Court of Appeals ordered the Village to proceed to arbitration. The Court observed that “the Uniform Arbitration Act embodies a legislative policy that favors the enforcement of agreements to arbitrate future disputes. Arbitration is a favored method of resolving disputes because it is viewed as being more effective and more cost-efficient than litigation. In addition, because arbitration is a uniquely suitable procedure for settling labor disputes, the arbitration provisions of collective bargaining agreements are to be given a broader interpretation than similar provisions in commercial agreements.

“In fact, the Labor Act requires that everything recited in a collective bargaining agreement shall be subject to grievance arbitration unless the parties have mutually agreed otherwise. Thus, in the context of public labor relations, the legislature has reversed the presumption that would usually apply – that a particular matter is arbitrable only if the parties expressly agree to submit the matter to arbitration. Rather, the relevant inquiry in a case arising under the Labor Act is whether the parties, through their written agreement, showed an intent to exclude the disputed matter from arbitration. Thus, it must be absolutely clear that a matter is not within the scope of the arbitration agreement for a stay of arbitration to issue.

“Having reviewed the instant collective bargaining agreement and the facts of the present case, we find that the intent of the parties on disciplinary matters is unclear and that the parties must proceed to arbitration so that an arbitrator can decide whether the instant disciplinary matter is, in fact, subject to grievance arbitration under the parties’ agreement. On the one hand, the arbitration provision in this case was broadly drafted and there was no exclusion provided for disciplinary matters, which would be an indication that the parties intended that disciplinary matters would be subject to grievance arbitration.

“On the other hand, discipline procedures and the arbitration provision were placed in separate and distinct articles of the collective bargaining agreement, which would be an indication that the parties intended that disciplinary matters would not be subject to grievance arbitration. Faced with the uncertainty presented by the parties’ collective bargaining agreement, we are compelled under the law to refer this matter to arbitration for the arbitrator to decide whether the instant disciplinary matter was subject to arbitration under the parties’ agreement.”

Bartonville v. Lopez, 2016 IL App (3d) 150341 (Ill. App. 2016).