Arbitrator Vacates Promotion Where MassDOT Failed to Consider Seniority and Work History of USW-Represented Employee

March 08, 2021

On March 8, 2021, an arbitrator ordered the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to vacate a promotion and conduct a new review of the applicants because the Department failed to consider the applicants' work history and seniority as required by the collective bargaining agreement.  The case was brought by United Steelworkers, Local 5696, and Pyle Rome partner Al Gordon O'Connell represented the Union at arbitration.

The CBA between MassDOT and the Union requires the Department to consider three factors in making promotional decisions:  ability to do the work, seniority, and work history.  In this case, when a rare promotional opportunity arose within the bargaining unit, a number of candidates applied, including a unit employee in the classification immediately below the opening who had more than thirty years of relevant experience as well as two master's degrees in related fields.  Rather than hire this obviously qualified senior employee, MassDOT hired an external candidate who had only a bachelor's degree and four years of experience with no bargaining unit seniority.  The Department's decision was based entirely on interview questions that purportedly tested the candidates' knowledge in the area of work.

USW 5696 filed a grievance on behalf of its member, and an arbitrator found that the Department had violated the contract by failing to consider seniority and work history as the contract required.  The arbitrator therefore ordered the Department to vacate the position and reconsider the candidates using all of the required factors.  The case is a good reminder that, although promotional bypass cases are often hard to win, Unions should not hesitate to challenge promotional decisions when an employer fails to consider all of the required elements.