Despite Contract Language Assigning Work to Bargaining Unit Members, Arbitrator Finds for Employer

While some of us labor attorneys might recall reading about private labor cases requiring employers to tear down the already-completed work of their employees simply because they were wearing the wrong union pin, in Minnesota, generally, there is no such thing as “bargaining unit work.” In fact, it’s an unfair labor practice in Minnesota for unions to force or require “any employer to assign particular work to employees in a particular organization or in a particular trade, craft, or class rather than to employees in another employee organization or in another trade, craft or class.” Minn. Stat. §179A.13, subd. 3(9). However, there is nothing stopping employers from guaranteeing certain work to employees through collective bargaining, or for an employer to be obligated to assign certain work (i.e., police and fire services) to an employee with the correct qualifications for a job.

With school districts, there are certain duties that need to be filled by a certain types of employees – teachers teach, principals run schools, and nurses nurse.  However, how students are transported is generally at the discretion of the school district.  In fact, when districts are facing a budget crunch, one of the first things to take place is the contracting bus services to private contractors.

In the Warroad school district, the district hired its bus drivers, who were a part of a union, to provide transportation services to its students.  In the parties’ collective bargaining agreement addressed the position of Activity Drivers.  It stated that the unit’s route drivers would have the first opportunity to driver activity trips.  At the same time, the district’s athletic teams were frequently provided with complementary transportation services by its high school’s booster clubs through a local charter service company.

When several athletic team trips were provided by the local charter company at the booster club’s expense, the union filed a grievance, claiming such work should have been offered to the unit’s route drivers.  This claim brought the parties to arbitration.

After finding that no laws in Minnesota required school districts to provide for transportation services for extracurricular activities, the arbitrator addressed the concept of the school district maintaining a past practice over the provision of transportation services by its high school booster club.  While some might argue whether an employer actually needs to establish a practice in order to do something that is within its discretion, the district was able to prove a ten-year practice of the booster club chartering a bus to take teams they support to games out of town.  In addition, the arbitrator found that the activity driver language was never meant to restrict the district’s ability to utilize contracted services for school activities, but to create an obligation to offer extra work to route drivers.  With that, the grievances over the charter bus service were denied.

This was a bit of an odd situation – this was a service that was not even being provided by the school district, yet the district got dragged into arbitration over a service that the union argued it should have been providing.  Furthermore, employers should not have to try to establish a past practice of doing something that is covered under a management rights clause.  Employers have the right to utilize the tools they feel are most appropriate if they are not restricted by statute or contract language.

That being said, there was contract language that was somewhat applicable to the grievance, that basically allowed the grievance to be heard by an arbitrator.  Employers should be wary of agreeing to any contract language that limits them from utilizing the most efficient means of accomplishing a task, whether it be transporting athletes, making widgets, or fighting crime.  It is important to think of all the possible outcomes when agreeing to contract language, and getting agreement from both sides as to what the language does, and does not mean.  If you, or your organization, need assistance in negotiating contract language that best suits your goals, contact the Wiley Law Office, for negotiations experience that works.