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Labor Law

Contract Enforcement And Contract Disputes

Almost every collective bargaining agreement in the United States contains a grievance procedure. In the grievance procedure, the union and the employer try to settle any disputes over the meaning or application of the contract by themselves. If the parties fail, they may invoke ARBITRATION, a procedure that typically calls for referring the issue to an impartial third party for a final and binding determination.

Grievance provisions of a collective bargaining agreement govern the procedure to be followed to settle on-the-job disputes. Typical grievance procedures generally consist of at least three steps: (1) an employee and his or her union steward present their complaint orally to the supervisor, who has the power to settle it; (2) in the event that the matter is not settled at that stage, it is reduced to writing, and the union steward and union officers confer with management; (3) if no agreement is reached, the aggrieved employee may submit the matter to arbitration, which will be binding on all parties.

The arbitration of disputes under a collective bargaining agreement is a matter of contract, and the parties to it may delineate the scope of their arbitration clause. Common grievances settled under arbitration clauses include disputes over seniority rights, employee discipline, PENSION or WELFARE benefits, rates of pay, and hours of work. Ordinarily, the issue of whether a strike or lockout is a breach of an agreement is a proper subject for arbitration.

The vast majority of union-employer contract disputes are resolved in a grievance procedure, and most of the rest are disposed of routinely through arbitration. Occasionally, a party will resist arbitration or will refuse to comply with an arbitrator's award. In such a case section 301 of the Taft-Hartley Act authorizes a suit in federal court to enforce the agreement to arbitrate or the arbitrator's award.

The federal courts have enforced a proarbitration policy in labor contracts. If a union strikes over a grievance it could have arbitrated, the employer may secure an injunction against the strike under section 301 of the Taft-Hartley Act, even though ordinarily the Norris-LaGuardia Act prevents the federal courts from enjoining strikes by labor unions.

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